In 1960, the U.S. Army issued a specification for a four- or five-seat light single-engine turbine observation helicopter. The helicopter was to use the new Allison (now Rolls-Royce) 250 engine. Three companies responded and Hughes (now MD Helicopters) won the competition with the MD 500. Fairchild Hiller (now defunct) was first to market with a commercial version of its losing entry called the FH 1100. And Bell Helicopter’s losing entry was undoubtedly one of the least attractive helicopters ever built.
Legend has it that a small group of engineering and marketing types redesigned the fuselage in great secrecy. When senior management found out about this effort they ordered it stopped. The small group continued anyway and senior management only reluctantly approved the resulting helicopter for production. Needless to say, the redesign named the Bell 206 was an astounding success, is still in production and has one of the longest uninterrupted production runs of any aircraft (rotary or fixed wing). It should also be noted that Bell did win the second round of the competition and ended up selling thousands to the U.S. Army.
The design of the Bell 206 was a brand new design based on the proven two-bladed teetering rotor pioneered on the Bell 47. The dynamic system uses a two-bladed rotor but not the “dumb bells” used on the Bell 47. The engine used on the Bell 206B3 is the Rolls-Royce 250-C20J. As an option, the higher powered 250-C20R is available. A two-bladed tail rotor provides directional control and the main and tail rotor blades use an extruded aluminum spar with a honeycomb core and bonded skin. The fuselage is made of conventional aluminum alloy. The cabin has two seats in front and a three-seat bench in the rear. A skid landing gear is used for the sake of simplicity.
Design of the Bell 206 was launched in 1964 after the loss of the Army competition. The first flight of the redesigned Bell 206 took place in 1966. Certification to the standards of CAR 6 was received late in 1966 and deliveries started in 1967. Initial deliveries were based on the 250-C18 engines. In 1971, the higher powered Bell 206B with the 250-C20 engines was certificated. The current production version, the Bell 206B3 with the 250-C20J, was certificated in 1977.
In 1983, production of the Bell 206 line was transferred from Texas to Canada.