AgustaWestland Helicopters at Farnborough Epitomize Dual-role Concept
Among the eight AgustaWestland helicopters on display outside Finmeccanica’s pavilion (Static Display L1) at Farnborough Airshow 2014, half of them–the new, multi-role AW149, the 4.5-tonne class AW169 configured for emergency medical service along with the mockup of a military AW169, and the 8-tonne class AW189–illustrate the dual approach to helicopter configuration that AgustaWestland has embraced in the development of its newest rotorcraft. In particular, the two AW169s being shown here handily illustrate the results of this dual-approach concept.
Also on display are an AW109 Trekker mockup, which is making its first appearance in Farnborough and is the company’s first light, twin-engine helicopter with skid landing gear; a naval variant of the AW159; an Italian air force SAR/special forces variant of the AW101; and an NH Industries naval NH90, in which AgustaWestland is a 32-percent partner.
Since the inception of its 6.4-tonne AW139, AgustaWestland decided to adopt a dual-role path with all new AgustaWestland machines, specifically using the concept in the most recent AW189, AW149 and AW169. All these models feature a base avionics package that has obtained civil certification, but is capable of integrating the complex systems typically required by military and paramilitary users.
To achieve this the company established its own avionics department, which developed a company-owned digital architecture and proprietary software design that allows full control over customization costs and timing.
The technologies and materials adopted in the AW139 and its follow-ons were selected according to safety standards that are equal to, if not higher than, military requirements. Concepts, such as design-to-tolerance and crashworthiness, have become essential if manufacturers are to satisfy the stringent civil certification requirements of EASA and the FAA.
These same standards are now commonly accepted by some military users, who often deploy helicopters in domestic disaster relief and homeland security operations. While operating costs have always been a key element in the civil market, frugality is now becoming increasingly important in governmental and military scenarios as budgets shrink.
Military and governmental entities have shown greater attraction to dual-use products in recent years, thanks to the ability to adopt non-specialized platforms for a wider utilization in parapublic and asymmetric operational scenarios. This reduces costs through dual-use technologies and off-the-shelf materials that minimize customization needs and exploit cost-effective approaches in maintenance, which is typical for technologies and designs often found in the civil market.
Dual Role Success
AgustaWestland first achieved success with the dual-role concept with the AW139. As of last March, the order book exceeded 770 helicopters with more than 650 delivered. Total flight hours throughout the fleet are now close to one million. The higher percentage of those aircraft are used in offshore oil operations, but 31 percent of the fleet fill search-and-rescue, military, governmental and law enforcement roles. Many countries decided to fully rely on the EASA/FAA certification, considering it redundant to submit to further qualification, except in cases of specific customizations.
The manufacturer hopes to obtain a similar success with its latest development, the AW169, the militarized version of which is on display here at Farnborough in the form of a mock-up. In the AW169’s 4.5-metric-ton category, and the AW139’s 6.5-metric-ton class, AgustaWestland addresses the market with modern products, contrasting with its competition, which relies on ageing designs.
The same applies in the heavier, eight-metric-ton category, where the AW189 is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the civil market, while the AW149 is its military counterpart. AgustaWestland chose not to use strict duality in this case, developing two different models. The AW149 is earmarked for military market, while the AW189 went for civil certification, in accordance with the latest EASA CS/FAR 29.
It is interesting to note that the first design to appear on AgustaWestland screens was the military AW149, around 2006. A few years later, the need for higher payload and greater endurance led to developing the A189, mostly dictated by the oil and gas market, which needed helicopters optimized for reaching drilling platforms located far from the coast. Although duality is more limited than in the AW139 and AW169 cases, most of the main components are common between the AW149 and the AW189.
Duality, together with the family concept, have become a key characteristic of AgustaWestland. Though it’s not known what new designs are currently on the screens of the company engineers’ computers is not known, it’s a safe bet that future products will likely follow the duality path.