Bell 206L-1 LongRanger II "Spirit of Texas"

Display Status:

This object is on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.

Collection Item Summary:

In this aircraft, H. Ross Perot Jr. and J. Coburn completed the first round-the-world flight by helicopter. They departed Dallas, Texas, on September 1, 1982, and returned 29 days later after flying over 26 countries. They flew an average of eight and a half hours a day, refueled 56 times, and encountered no major mechanical problems along the way.

Powered by an Allison 250-C28B turbine engine, the LongRanger is a typical helicopter built for business and utility use. The Spirit of Texas was modified for its round-the-world trip. Nonessential items were removed and an extra fuel tank was added, along with special safety, communication, and navigation equipment. The aircraft was painted bright colors to enhance its visibility.

Collection Item Long Description:

On September 25, 1973, Bell Helicopter announced an improved version of the venerable JetRanger. Named the Model 206L-1 LongRanger II, it introduced Bell's revolutionary new Noda-Matic suspension system for the transmission and stretched the JetRanger's fuselage 26 inches. The additional space left room for a third side window, the most recognizable visual feature of the LongRanger. Along with the JetRanger, the 206 series is one most familiar lines of civil helicopters in the western world.

Development of the Model 206 started in 1960 to compete for the US Army's light observation helicopter (LOH) program. But the Hughes 369 (OH-6) won the contest. However, Bell executives recognized the potential of the configuration as the next generation replacement for its venerable Model 47 series [see NASM collection. In 1966, Bell introduced a re-engined and substantially reconfigured 206 as a commercial replacement for its successful reciprocating 47J Ranger VIP transport [see NASM collection]. Known as the JetRanger, it attracted much attention, if not sales. Military oders soon overshadowed commercial production as the Army acquired them under the OH-58A designation to overcome production shortfalls and cost over runs in the OH-6s desperately needed in Vietnam. Though not as durable or maneuverable as the OH-6, the OH-58's advantages in reliability and maintainability associated with Bell's trademark two-bladed teetering main rotor made it a mainstay in the final years of conflict in Southeast Asia and ultimately led to its superseding its earlier competitor in scout and light attack role up to the present day. The US Navy also procured the 206 as the TH-57A Sea Rangers for use as a trainer.

After Vietnam, the combination of plentiful ex-military pilots and a massive upsurge in domestic offshore oil exploration led to an explosion in demand for the combination of payload, reliability and operating cost offered by the JetRanger. However, the petroleum industry demanded greater internal capacity over the four passengers carried by the 206. Bell responded with the seven-place 206L LongRanger.

The Noda-Matic system in the LongRanger greatly reduced the heavy vibration endemic to the two-bladed rotor system. By suspending the transmission at certain points from a metal beam, vibration levels were reduced so that the LongRanger's ride approached that of a fixed-wing turboprop aircraft.

The JetRanger and LongRanger became iconic civil helicopters in the United States during the 1980s, where they became the de facto vehicle of choice for countless movie and television villains, where they often came to a fiery end that was almost never replicated in real-life. In reality, for much of the 1970s and '80s, the JetRanger and LongRanger were the dominant helicopter models in North America for VIP transport, natural resource exploitation, film and television production, and law enforcement. By the 1990s, stagnation in the offshore market and an influx of European competitors began to limit Bell's domination of the light turbine utility helicopter market and the company responded first a four-bladed version (Model 407), and then with twin-engine (Model 427) and instrument certified (Model 429) versions. In 2010, Bell announced the production termination of the venerable JetRanger in favor of these more robust models, and in the process, acceded the lower end of the commercial market to relative newcomer Robinson [see NASM collection].

Determined to beat Australian adventurer Dick Smith's solo attempt in JetRanger to fly the first helicopter around the world, H. Ross Perot, Jr. and Jay Coburn departed Fort Worth, Texas on September 1, 1982, almost a month after Smith had departed. However, Smith, with limited funds, undertook his adventure in stages and did not complete his flight until the following year. Perot and Coburn, with massive logistical support, including the positioning of a container ship as a refueling point in the northern Pacific, completed their voyage in 29 days, 3 hours, and 8 minutes. For the trip, the LongRanger had full navigation equipment, survival gear and emergency items, pop-out floats, and a 151-gallon auxiliary fuel tank in place of the rear seat. The additional five-hour endurance enabled the Spirit of Texas to fly eight hours without refueling. The trip took 246.5 flight hrs at an average ground speed of 117 mph. The LongRanger is capable of a maximum speed of 150 mph.