One of the most reliable and successful helicopters, the Bell 206 helicopter, is a multi-purpose utility aircraft that entered the world of rotor flying in 1967. Developed from Bell YOH-4, Bell 206 is a family of 2-bladed, single, and twined engine helicopters popular among all types of commercial and private users. Bell 206 helicopters are widely used for VIP transport, law enforcement, medevac, search and rescue, aerial photography, etc.
Interesting facts about Bell 206
1. Bell 206 is the third-most-produced helicopter with more than 8400 Bell Jetrangers built during its 44 year period.
2. The American aerospace manufacturer Bell Textron had initially designed Bell YOH-4 for the competition organized by the United States for Light Observation Helicopter (LOH). One of the five prototypes of YOH-4, YOH-4A, was designated according to the new Joints Services Designation System and had unpalatable features in comparison to other contending aircraft. The US Army rejected Bell YOH-4A in favor of Hiller’s YOH-5and Hughes YOH-6 as it used 250shp +63-A-5 that underpowered the prototype aircraft. The aircraft faced marketing problems, lack of cargo space, and cramped seating.
Hughes OH-6 won the military bid and was awarded a contract for production. Despite initial failure, Bell redesigned the airframe and set the stage for a more sleek and aesthetic design that would become the company’s most successful commercial aircraft: Bell 206A Jet Ranger. It was a 5-seater commercial chopper with a redesigned fuselage, sleek, and aesthetically appealing image and was developed from the popular Model 47J Ranger.
When US Army solicited a response from aircraft manufacturers for Light Observation Helicopters (LOH) again in 1967 due to the failure of Hughes Tool Co. Aircraft Division to meet contractual production demand, the newer Jetranger design won the contract, and Bell 206A was designated as OH-58 Kiowa in honor of Native American tribe in 1968.
3. Bell 206, although initially designed for civil purposes, also serves military purposes for countries like Albania, Argentina, the United States, Iran, Finland, Canada, etc. As such, it has both civil and military variants.
Civil variants of Bell 206 helicopters include Bell 206, Bell 206A, Agusta-Bell 206A, Bell 206A-1, Agusta-Bell 206A-1, Bell 206B, Agusta-Bell 206B and Bell 206B-2, Bell 206B-3, Bell 206L LongRanger, Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II, Bell 206L-1+LongRanger, Bell 206L-3 LongRanger III, Bell 206L-3+LongRanger, Bell 206L-4 LongRanger IV, Bell 206LT TwinRanger, Bell 407, Bell 417, HESA Shahed 278, etc.
Similarly, military variants of the Bell 206 family include Bell 206AS, Bell CH-139 Jet Ranger, Hkp 6A, Hkp 6B, OH-58 Kiowa, TH-57A Sea Ranger, 206L TexasRanger, TH-57B, TH-57C Sea Ranger, TH-57D, TH-67 Creek, etc. Innumerable features of Bell 206, including its reliability, safety, mission flexibility, and low operating & maintenance costs, make this rotorcraft an invaluable asset to the military.
4. Bell 206 helicopter is a workhorse with the most reliable airframes. Bell 206 paved the way for many helicopter missions that most of these flying machines do today, such as aerial photography, aerial spray application, firefighting, turbine transition instruction platform, transport, medical, etc.
Bell 206 JetRanger
Standing 10.8′ high with a length of 39.2′, this Bell JetRanger is a single turbine light helicopter that can accommodate a single pilot and three passengers. Bell 206 Jet Ranger is the most well-known and favorite of all rotorcraft that has set industry-standard safety and reliability record, extreme versatility, no-frills design. This light utility turbine-powered aircraft has served the ‘boom and bust’ offshore world, delivering respectable and reliable performance at a trustworthy price even in today’s environment of rocketing fuel costs.
JetRanger is one of the most ubiquitous turbine single-engine models with more than 7000 numbers built worldwide, accumulating over 38 million flight hours. Flying at an approximately cruising speed of 120mph for two hours and forty minutes before refueling, it has a good performance and efficiency. It has a maximum gross weight of 3200 lbs and can carry 250 pounds of cargo.
Another reason that makes Bell 206 Jet Ranger one of the most popular series of single-engine helicopters is its quality to get the big job done through maneuverability in light space. It strikes a finely tuned balance between payload, range, and maintenance.
Simple and Plain 206 JetRanger
Bell 206 JetRanger has excelled in critical helicopter operating environments such as long, hard hours and offshore operations. Its time-tested two-blade system promises endurance and simplicity and isn’t burdensome to maintain. The advent of JetRanger III in 1977 has made a significant improvement in aircraft power by equipping new Rolls-Royce 250-20J engine boosted shaft horsepower.
Another interesting fact about Bell 206 helicopter is that it has the lowest overall accident rate. It handles a lot of up-and-down critical components and pilot stresses and has a reliable engine.
Prototype model: Bell 206L Longranger
Bell 206L Longranger is a seven-seater stretched variant having a further uprated engine, bigger rotor, more fuel capacity, and 760mm stretched fuselage introduced in 1977. The Bell LongRanger has an overall length of 42.4′ and a height of 10.9. Like Bell 206 B3, it is also a single-turbine engine helicopter and cruises at an average speed of 110 knots at the range of 260NM. Accompanied by a spacious cabin to accommodate five passengers comfortably, it surpasses most single-engine helicopters in terms of versatility and performance. It has a highly reliable civil utility feature providing a smooth ride in virtually every weather condition.
In 1981, the military version of Longranger, 206L TexasRanger, was introduced, replacing the original Allison 250-C20B engine with more powerful versions. More than 1700 units have been produced so far to serve a more excellent range of industries, especially medical rescues and transfers.
In June 2017, Bell Company stopped its production in favor of a 4-blade relative, the Bell 407.
TwinRanger and Gemini ST
TwinRanger is a twin-engine version of LongRanger, designated as’ B06 T’ and developed in the mid-1980s. Based on 206L-4, the Bell 206LT TwinRanger was delivered for the first time in January 1994. 206L-4 is a modified aircraft having strengthened airframe structural components, improved transmission, and an advanced engine that increases the aircraft’s overall performance. It is derated to 495hp for take-off.
Only a total of 13 206LTs were produced by Bell Helicopters as they were eventually replaced by mostly-new Bell 427.
Gemini ST is a twin-engine conversion of LongRanger developed by Tridair Helicopters in 1989 that commenced its maiden flight on January 16, 1991. In mid-1994, Gemini ST was awarded a certificate as the first Single/Twin aircraft, which later led Bell Company to build Bell 206LT TwinRanger.
Bell 407- Development of Bell’s LongRanger
In 1995, Bell Helicopter began the development of New Light Helicopter on JetRanger’s successor-the Bell 407. Instead of JetRanger’s standard 2-blade semi-rigid, teetering rotor system, Bell 407 uses a four-blade, soft-in-plane design rotor. First flown on June 29, 1995, Bell 407 replaced the Model 206 series. Although Bell 407 offers better performance, more comfortable rides, and wider internal cabin space than its predecessor, it is not as popular as Bell 206 series, proven by only 1400+ numbers built so far.
Bell 206 helicopters- aircraft in fiction
Bell 206 JetRanger was featured in the 1970s Australian series ‘Chopper Squad’, reflecting rescue work in Sydney. In 1971, James Bond’s film ‘Diamonds are Forever’ also featured a Bell 206B attacking the oil rig control center of Ernst Stavro Blofield. The Jet Ranger also had a notable appearance in Blue Thunder, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, etc.
Notable accidents and incidents of 206 helicopter
Although Bell 206 helicopter is considered the safest single-engine aircraft, several accidents have been reported. On August 27, 1990, Grammy-winning blues-rock guitarist Steve Ray Vaughan was killed in Bell 206 helicopter crash near Elkhorn, Wisconsin, into an artificial East Troy, Ski Hill, obscured by dense fog.
On August 20, 2014, Bell 206 helicopter crash took the life of Guatemala’s Army Chief of Staff. On February 2021, a Bell 206B JetRanger III met an accident as it struck Mont Charvet, killing two of five occupants.
Bell 206 outshone by Robinson R44?
The iconic 4-seater Robinson R44 has shaken the rotorcraft world with its versatility, piston-engine power, and lightweight features complemented by cheaper-to-run prices. R-44 became the best-selling general aviation helicopter as charter companies started trading off 206 choppers for light utility R44, with low running costs.
Cost of Bell 206 helicopter
Depending on the model, variant, and age of the flying machine, an average operating cost for Bell 206 is $350-$400 broken down by hour. This approximation accounts for fuel, insurance, tie-down or hangar storage fees, regular maintenance inspection, and landing fees. The current low-purchase cost of the Bell 206 Jet Ranger is around $1.2 million making it affordable for its operators.
The longstanding Bell 206 is one of the best and favorite helicopters of military and civil operators. Even though its production has stopped, Bell 206 continues with the subsequent 407 model that has more improved features, high production standards, and unrivaled flight performance.