Leonardo’s first production AW609 civil tiltrotor, AC5, has joined the test fleet and will fly soon, after which it will join the ongoing flight-test certification program in Philadelphia, according to William Sunick, the company’s head of tiltrotor marketing. The AC5 has already undergone ground-based certification trials, including testing of indirect effects of lightning strikes and testing of high-intensity radiated fields. Components for AC5 were contributed “from across the Leonardo ecosystem,” including from PZL-Świdnik in Poland and from Leonardo UK, Sunick said.
The AW609 combines the vertical take-off and landing performance of a helicopter with the speed, range, and comfort of a turboprop airplane. Beyond urban transportation, the aircraft is also designed for emergency medical services (EMS), search and rescue (SAR), offshore operations and patrol, and other applications. The AW609 can carry up to nine passengers in a comfortable pressurized cabin, has a max cruise speed of 275 knots, and can travel up to 700 nautical miles in a single flight—about twice as fast and twice as far as a traditional helicopter. It cruises at altitudes up to 25,000 feet, flying safely both in inclement weather and in known icing conditions. The AW609 features fly-by-wire flight controls, Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion avionics, and two Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67A engines.
The new aircraft will boost the test fleet to four aircraft in total—AC2 was lost in a flight testing crash in Italy in 2015, AC1, which first flew in 2003, is currently being used for ground testing in Italy, and AC4 is currently conducting flight tests, having recently returned from a demonstration tour in Dubai. AC4 is fully representative of the final production configuration, and successfully performed its first flight at Leonardo’s Philadelphia plant on December 23rd of 2019. AC6, the first customer aircraft (for Bristow Group), is one of three aircraft currently on the production line at the AW609 manufacturing facility in Philadelphia.
Although production is “still ramping up,” according to Sunick, he did not rule out multi-site production of the aircraft in the future if justified by market demand. He noted that specific mission kits and capabilities, such as search-and-rescue (SAR) and flight into known icing, will be added following aircraft certification. “We have a good idea of what all our variants—SAR, VIP, corporate, EMS, utility, and parapublic—will look like as we have all those variants flying on our helicopters right now—so we have a pretty good idea of what customers would want and how to integrate it onto the aircraft. But right now we are focused on the aircraft itself and getting it certified,” he said. “These pieces of kit gear are nothing new.”
“The flight envelope has been defined and right now we’re just checking the [certification] boxes.” These certification requirements include using AC1 on a ground stand to verify inspection intervals and mean time between overhauls, and using AC3 for engine handling performance and load level surveys. Leonardo is also validating the 30-minute run-dry capability of the 609’s five gearboxes—a capability that is already used on its conventional helicopters.
Why it’s important: The AW609 will be certified under the FAA’s new Powered Lift category, the first new category of aircraft certified by the FAA in decades. Combining the vertical take-off and landing performance of a helicopter with the speed, range, and comfort of a turboprop airplane, the AW609 is poised to transform private and intercity transport. However, the company is still early in the process of certifying the aircraft for commercial operation.
Source // Leonardo press release; AINonline