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Hands Off!

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Hands Off!Bell's 407 Meets Automated Flight ControlsAfter years of development, the Bell 407 and its new autopilot are finally certified. Contributing editor and veteran pilot Ron Bower recently flew the autopilot-equipped 407. Here's what he found. by Ron Bower Reporting from Fort Worth, Texas--------------------------------------------------------------------------------THESE DAYS, IT SEEMS there's an automated option for just about every flight maneuver. What's next? Robots in the cockpit? That's not science fiction anymore. They're already here-in the form of a new breed of highly sophisticated autopilots. In late December, I went to snowy Pennsylvania to fly and evaluate a Bell 407 that was specially equipped with one of these "new breed" autopilots, also known by the alternative term, Automatic Flight Control Systems (AFCS). This helicopter is equipped with the PA-85T AFCS, manufactured by SFIM, Massy, France. The 407 (N407AP) is owned by HAS Corp., Mt. Pleasant, PA. HAS holds the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for the autopilot. Both companies teamed up in the mid-1990s to certify a VFR autopilot for the 407 airframe. HAS began this pursuit in response to customer requests as the Bell 407 was beginning customer deliveries. Highly experienced in autopilot technology, SFIM has installed more than 2,500 autopilots in 15 military and civilian helicopter types. HAS Executive Vice President Jim Wagner was my host and demonstration pilot. Wagner's commanding in-depth knowledge of the autopilot system bears the marks of the relentless effort required to get FAA certification. He's responsible for HAS's immaculate maintenance and completion facility and its 100-person work force. (See R&W, June 1997, page 34.)A real-world evaluationJim and I took two flights in N407AP. The first flight was for familiarization and evaluation of system operation. I found the autopilot to be simple to test in preflight. Once engaged, the unit is operational from takeoff to landing. Engagement of the various modes is uncomplicated and very smooth. When altitude hold is engaged, even in a climb, the autopilot smoothly lowers the nose and nails the selected altitude. Both right and left turns are equally smooth; the system uses a two-minute turn bank, which is about 15

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