Bell and Agusta announced at Farnborough Air Show on 8 September 1998 that they had agreed to establish a joint venture to manage development of two new aircraft: the BA609 tiltrotor, previously a Bell and Boeing programme, and the AB139, a new helicopter announced on the same day. Following approval of both boards, a definitive agreement was signed on 6 November 1998. A full-scale mockup was unveiled at the Paris Air Show 12 June 1999.
Agusta is responsible for the AB139's development and certification to JAR/FAR 29 and transition to production, with participation by Bell on a 75:25% work-share basis; final assembly by Agusta at Vergiate, and by Bell (possibly at Mirabel, Canada). A military version was revealed in July 2000, and flight testing of the AB139 began in February 2001.
Risk-sharing collaborators include GKN Westland (tail rotor drive train), Honeywell (avionics), Kawasaki (transmission input module), Liebherr Germany (landing gear and air conditioning system), Pratt & Whitney Canada (power plant) and PZL Swidnik (airframe components). PZL in Poland were making all the fuselages for the Agusta A109, AW119 and AW139, before shipping them to Brindisi, Italy, for customer fit-out. PZL also manufactured the A109 and A139 tail booms.
With no designated prototype, the first preproduction aircraft (01, later I-ACOI) first flew on 3 February 2001 followed by second aircraft (02, later I-ATWO) on 4 June 2001 and third (03, later I-EPIC) on 22 October 2001. The first preproduction aircraft crashed on 22 April 2002. Assembly of first production aircraft began in late November 2001 and this aircraft, I-ANEW, was demonstrated at Farnborough in July 2002.
Three preproduction aircraft and one tie-down helicopter (TDH) undertook the flight test programme and the AB139 achieved Italian IFR Type Certification on June 18, 2003 after 1,600hr of ground and flight testing. 750 hours was completed on the TDH.
Featuring a five-blade, fully articulated, ballistic tolerant main rotor and four-blade tail rotor, some of the transmission and rotor elements are based on Agusta A129 Mangusta.
The AB139 has four-axis, digital AFCS flight controls and heavy-duty, retractable tricycle landing gear with twin wheels on the nose unit and single wheels on the main units, which retract into side sponsons.
Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67C turboshafts, with FADEC, each rated is at 1,252kW for T-O and 1,142kW maximum continuous; OEI ratings 1,286kW for two minutes and 1,252kW maximum continuous. Fuel tanks are behind the main cabin. The main transmission can run for up to 30 minutes without oil.
Up to 15 passengers are accomodated on crashworthy seats in three rows of five, two forward facing, one rearward facing, in an unobstructed cabin with a flat floor and a flight-accessible baggage compartment at the rear of cabin, or alternatively, six stretchers and four attendants in medevac configuration. Plug-type sliding door are on each side of cabin, with separate crew doors.
The commercial version was priced at US$7 million in 2002. More than 80 had been ordered by 25 customers by June 2003. Launch customer Bristow Helicopters of UK announced order for two on 26 September 2000 for delivery in 2003.
The AB 139 is operated by the US Coast Guard for recovery and surveillance.
Engine: 2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67C turboshafts
Take-off power capacity: 1250kW
Max continous power capacity: 1140kW
Main rotor diameter: 13.80m
Length with rotors turning: 16.65m
Fuselage length: 13.53m
Max take-off weight: 6000kg
Internal payload: 2500kg
External payload: 2700kg
Max cruising speed: 290km/h
Economic cruising speed: 278km/h
Hovering ceiling, OGE: 3600m