20/Twenty: Bell 222, The First U.S. Commercial Twin

Nigel Prevett contributed photo

Bell introduced the 222B in 1982 with a two-foot-longer main rotor than the 222A and more powerful Lycoming engines.

Credit: Aviation Week file photo

Certified by the FAA in December 1979 and introduced to the market in 1980, the Bell 222 is distinguished as the first U.S.-built light twin-turbine commercial helicopter. Rotary-wing operators or enthusiasts eyeing a pre-owned 222 will find a limited market of less than 60 remaining aircraft.

Characterized by a two-blade, semi-rigid main rotor reminiscent of Bell’s Cobra attack helicopter, a retractable, tricycle undercarriage and stylish, sharklike contours, the 222 seats one or two pilots and up to six passengers in executive configuration and eight passengers in the utility role. Stable in flight, it became the first helicopter certified for single-pilot IFR operations without an autopilot or stability augmentation. Its first customer was offshore oil operator Petroleum Helicopters Inc.

There were 188 Bell 222-series helicopters manufactured from 1980 to 1991, of which 59 remain in service and 129 have been retired, says Jason Kmiecik, president of helicopter appraisal firm HeliValue$.

“Since most of the Bell 222 aircraft have been retired, there are limited numbers still operating today,” says Kmiecik. “The 222 was once the go-to machine for EMS operations as well as VIP transport. Today, the market for this aircraft is very small. Of the 59 still in operation, only 19 of them are in the U.S. and the majority of the remaining 40 are operating out of South Africa.”

The Bell 222A debuted in 1980 with 620-shp Lycoming LTS 101-650C-3 engines and 40-ft.-diameter main rotor disc. The factory-new list price of an average-equipped 222A that year was $1.2 million, according to the Aircraft Bluebook.

Reliability and maintenance issues with the LTS101 engines and the A-model's less-than-desired range when carrying passengers led Bell to introduce the 222B in 1982 with a two-foot-longer main rotor and more powerful (684-shp) LTS 101-750C-1 engines. The list price of the 222B was $1.6 million equipped.

Following in 1983, the 222U utility variant replaced the helicopter’s retractable wheeled landing gear with skids, opening room for additional fuel in the side sponsons where the main landing gear of the corporate variant retracts. Its factory-new list price was $1.063 million.

Bell introduced the improved Model 230 in 1992 with 700-shp Allison 250 C-30G/2 engines; its factory-new list price was $3.26 million. It was manufactured until 1995, after which Bell produced the Model 430 with a four-blade main rotor, stretched fuselage and more powerful Allison 250 C-40B engines.

An Unfortunate Legacy

Airwolf stars Jan-Michael Vincent, l, and Ernest Borgnine pose with the helicopter depicted in the 1980s television series. Credit: Getty Images

Overall, there were 80 222As, 72 222Us, 26 222Bs, and 10 222SPs (a modified version with Allison 250-C30 engines) built, according to Kmiecik. Of the 59 remaining, nine were listed for sale in February.

Interested parties can expect to see asking prices for a pre-owned Bell 222A of $250,000-$275,000; a 222B of $275,000-$300,000; a 222U of $300,000-$325,000; or a 222SP of $325,000-$350,000, Kmiecik says.

“The days they have been listed for sale on the market range from 304 days to 1,760 days,” he says. “Asking prices are just that—they are just asking.”

One of the last 222As that Bell built, recast as an armed, “Mach 1-plus chopper,” earned a role in the 1980s television series Airwolf, starring Jan-Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine. Operated by JetCopters, of Van Nuys, California, the modified craft survived its improbable missions before the series was canceled in 1987. But its ultimate fate spoke to the 222’s unfortunate legacy of accidents.

“After the show was canceled, the modifications were removed; the helicopter was repainted and eventually sold to the German helicopter charter company, Hubschrauber-Sonder-Dienst and given the registration number D-HHSD,” says the Tennessee Museum of Aviation, which displayed a replica of the Airwolf  helicopter from 2007-15. “While operating as an air ambulance, the helicopter crashed on June 6, 1992.”

The Aviation Safety Network (ASN) lists 54 accidents involving Bell 222s from April 1982 to April 2019, including that of D-HHSD. According to ASN and a description of the accident by aviation history website Check-Six.com, the helicopter had flown a girl suffering from severe burns from Berlin to the University Hospital of Cologne.

On the return flight to Berlin Schonefeld Airport, the helicopter encountered fog and crashed into a mountainside. The 42-year-old pilot, a doctor, and a paramedic were killed.

BCA welcomes comment and insight from aircraft dealers and brokers for its monthly 20/Twenty pre-owned aircraft market feature. The focus aircraft for March is the Dassault Falcon 20 and for April, the Beechjet 400A. To participate, contact [email protected].

Bill Carey

Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.


1 Comment
It's still a cool looking heli even today.