First for more…
Last week I visited Bell Helicopter’s regional aftermarket, delivery and customisation service centre in Prague, Czech Republic.
The painting facility at the centre had its ribbon cut at a staff and press official opening ceremony and the hi-tech booth will be able to serve all Bell aircraft. This will assist the speed of the customer delivery process from the facility.
Another first was the handing over of the keys of the grey Bell 429 with its VIP/corporate configuration at the eastern European delivery centre. The rotorcraft was signed over to Russian customer Riverhold Assets.
It was also my first time travelling in the Bell 429 and 407 respectively, (and first time to Prague if we’re counting).
The Bell 429, operated by the Slovakian Police (Policajnў Zbor Slovenskej Republiky), was manned by a two-person crew.
The Slovak Government Services crew consists of a pilot and a flight attendant onboard the 429. The latter role is related to the state, government and presidential flights – not forgetting defence journalists too may I add.
Besides the governmental missions, the 429 also conducts police, firefighting and mountain rescue missions.
The Slovak Government Services operates two Bell 429s, the first painted green and white (pictured), whilst the other is completely black and was delivered in December 2015 to the police force.
Last summer, the green and white Bell 429 was delivered to the fleet which also uses Mi-17s.
Eight seats are available on the helicopter, and we managed to fill six. A Wi-Fi connection was available onboard along with USB charging points, supporting the communication needs of the VIPs (as well as us journos merrily tweeting pictures).
The 20-minute flight took off from Tocna Airport and flew over the green fields of the Czech Republic countryside and the Karlštejn Castle.
Flying alongside the 429 was the Bell 407GX, a seven passenger VIP rotorcraft with a Rolls-Royce engine operated by a private customer.
Later, I was able to experience the flight of the Bell 407GX under Stanislav Tarasovic, a Bell Helicopter pilot. The fish eye windows enabled a great panoramic view and enhanced visibility. The two-year old 407 had flown well over 650 hours.
Also flying simultaneously was the Bell 429 operated by Air Transport Europe which to assist its medical-related missions it has a winch and medical instruments readily available.
As first times go, this is one I won’t forget in a hurry and I’m already looking forward to the next ‘first ride’, in whatever comes along.