AgustaWestland (AW) performed customer demo flights aboard its prototype tiltrotor AW609 here at Heli-Expo in Anaheim, but with the aircraft still early in the certification process, few potential customers qualified to get on board. The FAA requires such passengers to be appropriately rated rotorcraft pilots, undergo simulator training in the company’s AW609 simulator, conduct a familiarization flight in the aircraft and receive a second-in-command rating. Two lucky attendees went through the process beforehand and took demo flights during the show, staged from Long Beach Airport.
The company was thrilled that anyone besides the test flight crew is now allowed to fly aboard the tiltrotor. “A couple of months ago couldn’t imagine that would be allowed by the FAA,” said a company spokesperson. “Now we can start to show potential customers the feeling of flying the 609. It’s a start, so maybe we’ll do more later on.”
The prototype AW609 flew here from its base in Arlington, Texas in four legs. The last, from Mesa, Ariz., covered 320 nm and was flown at 20,000 feet with a true airspeed of 250 knots, according to the company. With a 20-knot headwind, the flight required one hour, 35 minutes.
The AW609 completed its flight envelope expansion trials in December 2013, which paved the way for the beginning of certification testing. The two flight test AW609s have logged nearly 1,000 hours, a third of those in the past two years. AW Tilt-Rotor Company took on the full program two years ago, after launching the program in partnership with Bell Helicopter. Flight testing thus far has included expansion of the flight envelope to the maximum altitude of 25,000 feet and max cruise of 275 knots (both at max weight). During 2013 AW test pilots also performed slope landings, run-on landings, aeroelastic stability testing and high-altitude stability testing.
A third prototype AW609 is under construction at AW’s Vergiate facility, and this one is expected to fly this year, followed by a fourth prototype that will be used primarily for avionics testing. AW expects to receive certification for the tiltrotor in 2017, with production commencing in 2018. No price has been set.