The Bell 222 was developed to serve the growing business and utility market in the 1970s. Bell had already made moves in this direction in the late 1960s with its design of the D-306. The company showed a mock-up of the machine at the 1974 Helicopters Association of America exhibition, where it received a good response. As a result, Bell decided to proceed with the development and production of the design, which had now been renamed as the Model 222. This was the first time that Bell had introduced an all-new civilian helicopter line since the Jetranger.
Five prototypes were built. The first model flew in 1976, but it took until 1979 for the 222 to be certified. Indeed, the development process took a long time, and during this period a lot of modifications were made to the model.
The Bell 222 is a two-bladed, two turbine-engine medium-light helicopter. With its sleek fuselage, most people consider the 222 to be a good looking machine. Characteristic are the two sponsons at each side of the aircraft. These house the retractable landing gear and fuel tanks. The machine is powered by a twin-turbine power plant, which made it the first twin-turbine helicopter in the USA.
The model’s rotor head design was the first time Bell deviated from its standard teetering construction that was introduced by the company’s founder Arthur Bell. The rotor head uses no-lubricant elastomeric bearings and the blades are constructed from stainless steel and fibre-glass. Bell also introduced a “nodamatic” suspension system to reduce vibrations from the transmission.
Despite all of these new elements, the 222 line was not as successful as expected; the engines had reliability problems and were expensive to maintain. Operational expenses were further increased by the cost of replacing the expensive nomadic suspension and the use of an advanced IFR instrument set. This, in combination with a helicopter recession during the 1980s, kept sales figures low. Indeed, even now, 222 models are hard to sell in the helicopter market.
In 1992, Bell introduced the 230, which was basically a modified 222 with Allison 250 turbo shafts. In 1996, a stretched version of the 230 was developed as the 430. This model used a new four-blade rotor head system.