Bell 205 – a Good Time Oldie
Despite a design history that stretches back nearly six decades, many examples of the legendary Bell 205 and Bell 205A1 still fly today.
The Bell Model 205 and its later variant the Bell 205A1 can attribute their design origins to their military ‘forefather’ – the Bell UH-1. It was the US Army’s requirement for a ‘multi-purpose utility helicopter’ in the mid ‘50s that gave rise to the Bell UH-1 and, ultimately, later versions. The original designation for the type was HU-1 (Helicopter Utility), which was then shortened to the more affectionate ‘Huey’.
Whilst retaining their official and unofficial name, the basic UH-1 Huey helicopter airframe has been progressively modified and ‘stretched’ throughout its long service life. Each successive fuselage stretch of the basic military UH-1 airframe has coincided with a civilian equivalent. For instance, the UH-1 and UH-1B were the military equivalents of the civilian Bell 204 (the Bell 205’s older, yet shorter sibling). The UH-1H is essentially a Bell 205 and Bell 205A1 in civilian guise and use.
All variants have had distinguished careers but the military ‘Huey’ remains as one of the most well renowned and iconic helicopters to ever be built. In the Vietnam War, the UH-1s served as one of the main transports for carrying soldiers and supplies into combat. Many military documentaries and mainstream films depicting that brutal conflict capture the unique ‘wop wop’ noise of the Huey’s twin main rotor blades as it approached landing zones in Vietnam, to either drop troops off or retrieve them from battle.
Many civilian operators have also come to recognize the Bell 205 and Bell 205A1’s immensely practical design, power and ease of handling and, consequently, the type has been used for Search and Rescue (SAR), aerial fire fighting, air ambulance and aerial crane work, to name just a few roles.
Not surprisingly, several of the type are still operated in Australia. Helicorp, the heavy lift helicopter specialist, operates a Bell 205A1 (VH-NNN) at their Essendon Airport base in Melbourne’s outer west. The company’s chief pilot, Captain Roger De Souza, has nothing but praise for what he considers to be his ‘favourite’ aircraft to fly.
“Basically, it’s like putting on a comfortable pair of old boots,” he said.
De Souza has more than 13,000 flying hours to his name, having flown a multitude of helicopter types during his extensive flying career from Russian and French to American designs.
“It’s a very reliable and rugged helicopter which has been used for fire fighting, media, EMS, photography, mining, as well as offshore supply work,” he said. He further added that the Bell was capable of carrying a maximum of 13 passengers, and could fly 300 nautical miles before ‘dry tanks.’
Despite the fact the Bell 205A1’s VNE speed of 100 knots isn’t as fast as some of today’s medium sized utility helicopters, the highly experienced pilot said its dependability more than compensated.
“It’s highly reliable, very stable and relatively manoeuvrable and with an MTOW of 10200lb, can be used as a lifting machine for sling work, as well as a fire-bomber.”
Incidentally, the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment’s contract with Helicorp utilizes their Bell 205A1 for firebombing operations. The contract is for a minimum of 14 weeks during the Victorian fire season, which generally occurs between late November and March.
During that time, the Bell 205A1 is equipped with a 1400 litre Simplex tank, which is hover-filled with water and dropped on fires, generally with the addition of a foam concentrate. De Souza said the Bell 205A1 was also used for rapelling fire fighters to the ground to suppress remote fires and as a personnel transport.
The Helicorp chief pilot added that the bulk of firebombing consisted of low-level flying, in relatively demanding circumstances where some of the biggest threats to safety were low-level wires, poor visibility due to the presence of accompanying smoke and reduced performance due to high temperatures on hot days.
De Souza stressed though, that the need for flying a tough, dependable machine was paramount for such sorties: “When used as a fire bomber the Bell 205A1 is exceptionally reliable and dependable, in fact, regardless of what it’s being used for, the Huey never fails to deliver.”
“Despite the fact that the Bell 205A1 is powered by a single engine Lycoming turboshaft engine, the reliability inherent in the powerplant is extremely high for the types of ops we use it for.”
Not surprisingly, the Lycoming powerplant has been a central feature of the Bell UH-1 helicopters during the course of their design and service history.
Bell’s decision to use a Lycoming T-53 gas turbine engine installation for the initial Bell UH-1 production models was considered a bold move in its day, because ‘conventional’ piston engine powerplants were generally ‘de rigueur’ at the time. However, to its credit, the Lycoming turboshaft engine had a better power to weight ratio, was lighter and delivered more power than its piston engine equivalent, all of which afforded the Huey better performance characteristics and enabled it to carry higher payloads.
The Helicorp Bell 205A1 is powered by a 1500shp Lycoming T-53 Dash 17 engine, which provides the helicopter with a 10500lb MTOW capacity.
In these conditions, the helicopter’s payload is carried externally via hook and sling, which is released prior to landing. The MTOW is marginally reduced to 10200lb when its payload is carried internally, due to the structural limitations of its landing skids and fuselage cross tubes.
“The Bell 205A1’ is not necessarily advanced by the standards of today’s helicopter designs, but there are a multitude of practical applications we can still use it for, which more than compensates. It’s a true and trusted design, it works, and it’s an absolute pleasure to fly. Basically, it’s just a good old bird.”
The fact that an ‘an elder statesman’ of medium sized utility helicopters is still used today for a variety of roles in less than favourable operating conditions and environments, is testimony to its ruggedness, durability and reliability. It’s also gives credence to the belief that leading edge technology sometimes takes second billing to tried and tested designs.