Farnborough Air Show

Commonality Is The Key To Fleet Growth Options As AgustaWestland Keeps New Helicopters In The Family Way

 - July 8, 2012, 3:50 AM

AgustaWestland has clearly looked to the example set by leading airliner-makers Airbus and Boeing when it comes to instilling its so-called New Generation Helicopter Family with a strong sense of both commonality and flexibility in terms of applications. The Italian rotorcraft group wants to give operators options to build their fleet through the different weight classes it will soon cover with its new AW139 (6.4/6.9 metric tons), AW169 (4.5 metric tons) and AW189 (8 metric tons) models.

The AW169 prototype made its first flight in mid-May, joining the AW189, which started its flight-test program in December 2011. The AW189 is due to complete certification in its offshore configuration in the second half of 2013, with the AW169 following in the second half of 2014. The AW139 is already in service and has been gathering new orders at a healthy rate.

The family commonality, in terms of maintenance and training considerations, is particularly apparent in the cockpit, and also in key components such as gearboxes and rotorheads.

Among other systems, the three helicopters feature the same pilot seats and trim actuator arrangements, while commonalities between the AW139 and AW189 include the main- and tail-rotorhead scheme, which have the same number of blades. This said, the AW189 rotor is of a new generation compared with that of the AW139, as it adopts new blades featuring anhedral tips. This leads to a considerable improvement in hover performance.

Other major improvements are the increased ground clearance, which is 4.7 inches greater that that of the AW139, and new 24- by 9.2-inch main wheels versus the 18 by 7 inches of the smaller helicopter. The new landing gear also includes new nosewheels, contributing to far better handling on unprepared surfaces, as well as a hard-landing capacity.

New Avionics Suite

The helicopter has a new avionics suite, based on Rockwell Collins’ multifunction displays (MFD), with each pilot having two of them at his disposal: an outer one for flight data and one toward the center for mission data (MFD information being wholly interchangeable, however). Although it has different avionics compared to the AW139, information is presented on the MFDs following the same philosophy.

Circuit breakers are all solid state, which considerably reduces their dimensions and thus allows for an increase in the upper transparent surfaces in production models. AgustaWestland advertises a maximum occupant load of two pilots plus 18 passengers, although the oil and gas operation maximum is 16 passengers to adhere to emergency egress regulations. However, for other missions this means that the new helicopter might erode the lower niche of the 19-passenger aircraft currently in service.

The main competitor for the AW189 is Eurocopter’s EC175, and these will be joined by the new Bell 525 Relentless. The AW189 is aimed at replacing older types such as the Puma/Super Puma family of helicopters. In early June the first AW189 prototype logged more than 80 flight hours, and the pace of certification work was stepped up last month when a second prototype joined the campaign.

Sibling Commonality

With the AW169, the prototype of which flew in May last year, this smaller member of the family shares much in common with its larger siblings, plus specific features involving the dynamic components and avionics. The AW169 rotor blades share the same innovative design introduced on the AW189, although the rotorhead damping scheme is new. Dampers are installed between the blades to further improve the dynamic behavior that in turn provides an exceptionally low vibration level, increasing passenger comfort while ensuring higher reliability of on-board equipment.

The AW169 is not equipped with an APU so AgustaWestland chose to install a clutch on the transmission that disengages the first stage, allowing the rotors to stop with engines running, and providing power to utilities such as air conditioning. In the actual prototype, the four control display units located between the two pilots’ seats are of the standard type, while AgustaWestland looks at replacing them with two touch-screen CDUs. This will allow not only a streamlining of the cockpit but also an assisted management of emergency situations, as the right-hand page will pop-up automatically, saving considerable time and allowing a quicker reaction by the pilot.

The AW169 maintains a higher ground clearance compared to the AW139, and its prototype is equipped with a fixed landing gear. However, the company has already developed a retractable landing gear, the helicopter being proposed to the market with both options. The AW169 competes against the EC145, EC155 and previous Dauphin variants, as well as the AgustaBell AB412, Sikorsky S-76D and Bell 429 helicopters.

As for the current order situation, numerous AW139 users have already acquired some of the new machines, including the Bristow Group, which ordered six AW189s for offshore operations; the Bond Aviation Group, which ordered both the AW169 and AW189 to be used for offshore and emergency medical services; Weststar, which owns 10 AW139s and acquired both the AW169 and AW189 to complete its offshore offer; and Gulf Helicopters, whose 12 AW189s will give the operation a long-range capability to complement its AW139 fleet.

An unusual customer is Lease Corporation International, which has previously focused on airliners but last February decided to move into the rotary-wing business and acquire a fleet made up of AW139, AW169 and AW189 helicopters, fully endorsing the AgustaWestland family concept.

As of mid-June, the AW189 had bagged more than 50 firm orders and options, while the AW169 had a similar number of orders worldwide.