AgustaWestland reaffirmed its commitment to the AW609 civil tiltrotor program in the wake of the October 30 fatal crash of the second prototype in Italy, outside Santhia in Vercelli province, that killed company test pilots Pietro Venanzi and Herb Moran. The company also revealed that the ship was scheduled to perform high-speed testing at the time of the crash.
“We can confirm that during the standard tests before flight, completed shortly ahead of takeoff and performed in full compliance with the inspection plan authorized by the relevant aviation and certification authorities (ENAC and FAA), the aircraft proved fully serviceable,” the company told AIN. “The flight plan included tests at high speed to demonstrate certain capabilities as agreed with the certification authority (FAA) and which had already been successfully performed in previous flights also on aircraft number one. The flight route is approved by the Italian flight regulations for testing prototypes and production aircraft.”
The accident aircraft had logged 567 hours since its first flight in November 2006 and was scheduled to complete its flight-tests by the end of next year. The first prototype first flew in 2003. Two more test aircraft are under construction and the bulk of the flight-test work is being moved to AgustaWestland’s Philadelphia campus. Before the accident, AgustaWestland had hoped to have the AW609 certified by late 2017 and begin customer deliveries in 2018. The company has not released a revised program schedule.
In a prepared statement released November 8, AgustaWestland parent company Finmeccanica reaffirmed its support for the AW609 program and minimized the potential for any program delay. “With regards to the AW609 tiltrotor program, Finmeccanica-AgustaWestland is fully committed to mitigating any delay this tragic accident, and the subsequent investigation, might have on the program itself.”
The investigation into the accident could prove lengthy and complex. Various bodies will be party to the investigation: the Italian National Agency for the Safety of Flight (ANSV); the FAA and the NTSB (the aircraft was registered in the U.S. and operating under U.S. flight rules); the prosecutor’s office of Vercelli, Italy; Italian Civil Aviation Authority ENAC; and the EASA.
Venanzi had been a test pilot with AgustaWestland since 1999 after a career as a test pilot flying both airplanes and helicopters with the Italian Air Force. Moran joined AgustaWestland after working at Bell Helicopter on the BA609, as the AW609 program was known before AgustaWestland took full ownership from Bell. He also worked on the military UH-1Y and AH-1Z programs and had been a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Venanzi was one of three AgustaWestland test pilots awarded the Society of Experimental Test Pilots Iven C. Kincheloe award last year for his work in conducting autorotations on the AW609.