AgustaWestland’s two new helos fly

 - November 15, 2009, 6:30 AM

AgustaWestland last week achieved two significant milestones, with the first flights of two new military helicopter designs on consecutive days. First to fly was the AW159 Lynx Wildcat, which lifted off on Thursday at Yeovil in the UK. The aircraft performed “as expected” in general handling checks, according to chief test pilot Donald Maclaine.

It was followed on Friday by the AW149, which flew from the company’s Vergiate factory in Italy. The plant’s chief test pilot, Giuseppe Lo Coco, was at the controls for the 20-minute maiden flight that checked out general handling and basic systems. Coming shortly after the September 28 flight debut of the T129 (the Turkish version of the AW129 attack helicopter), the AW149 and AW159 first flights capped a successful fall for AgustaWestland.

The six-ton AW159 flew “exactly on schedule as we promised in June 2006, when the contract was signed,” said Nick Whitney, v-p for AgustaWestland’s UK government business unit. The manufacturer has signed a “strategic partnering agreement” with the UK Ministry of Defence. The latter has ordered 34 AW159s for the British Royal Army and 28 for the Royal Navy. Two more Lynx Wildcats are to join the flight test program next year.

The first aircraft is planned for delivery in 2011. Full operational status is expected with the British Army in 2014 and the Royal Navy in 2015. For land missions, the Lynx Wildcat roles will include reconnaissance, command and control, force protection and transportation of troop and materiel. For maritime missions, the AW159 will perform anti-surface warfare and force protection roles, defending ships against surface threats. It will serve aboard Type 22/23 frigates and Type 45 destroyers.

The aircraft’s maximum takeoff weight is 13,150 pounds, with the capability to increase to 13,767 pounds; it is powered by two 1,281-shp LHTEC CTS800s. The cockpit features four integrated 10- by 8-inch primary displays. Sensors include a nose-mounted infrared/TV imager with built-in laser designator. The maritime variant has a Selex Galileo 7400E 360-degree active array radar. The Lynx Wildcat also has a missile warning system, radar warning receivers and countermeasures.

This versatile aircraft can be outfitted to carry machine guns, torpedoes, depth charges and both iterations of the future air-to-surface guided weapon (FASGW), for which assessment-phase contracts have been issued. Thales is working on its lightweight multirole missile for the FASGW (Light) requirement, while MBDA is developing FASGW (Heavy), initially basing its design on the legacy Lynx’s existing Sea Skua weapon. FASGW(H) is being jointly developed to answer the French navy’s Anti-Navire Léger requirement for an AS 15TT replacement, to be carried by Panther and NH90 helicopters.

AW149 Is an AW139 Hybrid

AgustaWestland has developed the AW149 from its successful AW139 civil helicopter as a medium utility helicopter in the eight-metric-ton class. The company cites its capacious cabin as a key attribute for such a compact helicopter, enabling it to undertake many roles, including carrying up to 18 troops. It can also be armed with weapons on outrigger pylons.

The prototype that flew last Friday is actually a hybrid based on the AW149’s airframe and avionics, but with the AW139’s dynamic system. A full AW149 prototype is due to fly next year, with the two 2,000-shp General Electric CT7-2E1 turboshafts, new transmission system and Fadec system installed. AgustaWestland is aiming to complete development in 2012 to permit initial operating capability to be achieved in 2014.

An Italian air force search-and-rescue requirement was the spur to AW149 development, but it is also being marketed for export. The first main international sales opportunity for the AW149 is Turkey’s tactical utility helicopter program, which envisions an initial purchase of 69 helicopters for the army, 20 for the police and 20 for civilian fire-fighting duties. Turkish industry would be heavily involved in the program: it already manufactures AW139 fuselages for AgustaWestland, as well as the T129 (AW129) ATAK attack helicopter.