Leonardo Helicopters and its Swiss subsidiary, Kopter, today rebranded the SH09 single-engine rotorcraft as the Leonardo AW09. As it prepares to fly the latest P4 prototype between September and November of this year, the company now expects to complete type certification for the model by around the end of 2022 or early 2023.
The rebranding was unveiled almost exactly a year after Italy’s Leonardo completed its acquisition of Switzerland-based Kopter. Instead of featuring the standard three digits for Leonardo’s AW aircraft, the new product name has just two digits, with the third replaced by the rotor blade symbol used by Kopter as a bow to the cross in the Swiss flag.
According to Michele Riccobono, Kopter’s chief technology officer, the P4 prototype now being built will incorporate some undisclosed design changes from the existing P3 aircraft, which this year will complete its contribution to flight testing. P3 has already logged more than 40 flight hours since it underwent some configuration changes in January, including enhancements to the main rotor head and gearbox, an extended rotor mast, improvements to flight controls, and the integration of the Garmin G3000H avionics suite.
P4 will be used to reverify and consolidate results from the work with P3 before being employed to collect the data required for EASA certification. It will be joined later by a PS5 prototype.
Flight testing has been conducted at Kopter’s headquarters at Mollis, Switzerland, as well as at Pozallo in Sicily. Kopter CEO Marco Viola said that the two companies’ engineering teams have worked increasingly closely together over the past 12 months and that the rebranding of the SH09 marks the official entry of the aircraft into the Leonardo product family.
According to Viola, the model has a significant, but unspecified, backlog of sales contracts and letters of intent from customers intending to use it for civil applications, including passenger transportation, utility services, emergency medical support, and surveillance. Within the next few months, Leonardo intends to decide where in the U.S. it will conduct AW09 production for the North American market.
Leonardo’s intention is that the Kopter business will now become the group’s center of excellence for light helicopters and new rotorcraft technologies. Elaborating on the latter role, Leonardo Helicopters chief technology officer Matteo Ragazzi indicated that once the AW09 is in production, the company will step up efforts to develop a hybrid-electric helicopter during the latter half of this decade.
This process, he explained, will begin with a technology demonstrator to support a constructive dialogue with regulators over safety requirements. He indicated that this aircraft could use the AW09’s P3 or P4 prototypes as a starting point for the concept. Leonardo’s engineering teams will consider both electric batteries and new types of fuel cells for a project that is a key part of its Be Tomorrow 2030 strategic plan.
Leonardo confirmed that it has no plans to further develop the SW4 single made by its Polish subsidiary PZL-Swidnik. Ragazzi stated that Leonardo’s AW119 single has a commercial future alongside the AW09.
The rebranding under Leonardo’s AW designation applies only to the aircraft. Kopter will retain its separate company name, as well as the same management team.