Leonardo's AW609 civil tiltrotor is making its NBAA-BACE debut alongside a VIP interior mockup for the aircraft. The move comes as the first flight of the initial production aircraft is “imminent,” according to Leonardo (Static AD_408). That aircraft, which will join the flight-test campaign in Philadelphia as AC5, is slated for eventual delivery to the Bristow Group, the aircraft’s launch customer.
Executive interest in the aircraft is growing and the flight-test campaign is nearing completion, according to AW609 marketing manager William Sunick. He said the AW609 will be the flagship of Leonardo’s “Agusta” luxury branding launched last year, aimed at executive and VIP customers.
The Agusta concept was launched at the Dubai Airshow last year. Leonardo already has delivered several VIP helicopters and related service packages, including complete turnkey aircraft management, under the branding, according to Vincenzo Alaimo, Leonardo v-p of civil sales.
The bespoke interiors of VIP AW609s will be fitted for between five to seven passengers, with options for Wi-Fi, a forward lavatory with a hard door, and a small galley. The lavatory seat will not be certified for takeoff and landing.
Throughout the AW609’s two-decade-long flight-test campaign, Leonardo has been somewhat opaque about the order book for the aircraft, but Sunick did confirm that the company has received orders for the aircraft with VIP interiors. In typical utility configuration, the aircraft can seat nine passengers.
While hinting that the covid pandemic and related supply chain and FAA certification challenges have slowed the program’s progress, Sunick did say that the test fleet has accumulated 1,800 flight hours to date and that plans are to continue the flight-test program into 2023.
The current focus is to use Italy-based AC1 for run stand work for endurance testing of the rotor and drive system, Philadelphia-based AC3 for continued load survey flights, and AC4, also based in Italy, for mechanical systems and avionics testing. AC5 already has been used for ground-based avionics testing related to radiated fields and lightning.
According to Leonardo, the drive system and gearboxes have all successfully completed 30-minute “run dry” testing. Both AC4 and AC5 are equipped with production avionics and will be used for demonstrators in their prospective markets. AC2 was destroyed in a flight-test crash in 2015.
In Philadelphia, Leonardo is gearing up for the AW609’s entry into service, installing a full-flight simulator and a virtual technology procedural trainer for pilots and maintenance trainers, including an engine.
While Leonardo has not finalized the values recorded in noise testing, Sunick said the company expects the AW609 will meet all existing standards and be a good neighbor by virtue of its design. “Noise travels in the plane of the rotor disk. That is why you can hear a helicopter coming well before you can see it. But when the 609 is flying in airplane mode, the sound is more vertical, you really only hear the aircraft when it is on top of you.”