In the run-up to Christmas, Leonardo has had cause to celebrate early, with two significant first flights. The first production-standard M-345 HET (high-efficiency trainer) took to the skies at Varese-Venegono in Italy on December 21, while on the previous day the first TH-119 training helicopter was flown at the company’s plant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Quirino Bucci and Giacomo Ianelli were aboard the M-345 for its first flight. Bucci, Leonardo Aircraft Division’s trainer project test pilot, remarked afterwards, “The airplane performed excellently, perfectly meeting design parameters and expectations. The engine, in particular, showed exceptional response to power changes, a key factor for the role the M-345 will play, particularly for aerobatic flights. We’ve also tested the advanced onboard systems and I’m extremely happy with the excellent avionics integration and man-machine interface.”
The M-345 is the latest iteration of a design path that began with the Pratt & Whitney JT15D-powered SIAI-Marchetti S-211 that was first flown in April 1981, and which was sold to Haiti, the Philippines, and Singapore. The design was revamped in the early 2000s by Aermacchi as the M-311, which evolved further into the M-345 HET.
Leonardo has produced an aircraft that can perform basic/advanced training and has been proposed to a number of customers as part of an overall training package, along with the M-346 advanced/lead-in fighter trainer. Powered by a Williams FJ44-4M-34 turbofan, the M-345 employs a fighter-style glass cockpit with three color touchscreen displays and a HUD (head-up display) repeater screen in the rear cockpit. The aircraft has HOTAS (hands-on-throttle-and-stick) controls and a mission planning system. It has embedded virtual training capability and a datalink that can connect it to simulator networks.
The Italian air force ordered five in January 2017 for delivery in early 2020. An initial requirement for 45 has been announced to begin the replacement of the Aermacchi MB-339. The M-345 will also be the mount of the Frecce Tricolori aerobatic display team. In Italian service, the aircraft will be designated T-345A, and its activities will be integrated with those of the T-346 (M-346) fleet.
On December 20, the company flew its TH-119 helicopter for the first time, with Patrick McKernan flying the aircraft at the Philadelphia plant. That's where Leonardo plans to build the type is if it is successful in securing a U.S. Navy order for a new rotary-wing trainer to replace the Bell TH-57 Sea Ranger. The Navy has a requirement for at least 125.
The TH-119 is based on the company’s AW119 that is already built at the Philadelphia factory. FAA certification is expected early next year for what will be the first single-engine helicopter certified for IFR (instrument flight rules) flight for many years. The TH-119 offers cost-efficient training but without the loss of valuable flight instruction hours due to weather conditions.
The company’s director of U.S. sales, Andrew Gappy, noted, “Already made in the USA, the TH-119 is an affordable, off-the-shelf teaching helicopter that combines proven performance, flexibility, and safety. It is built to accomplish every current Navy undergraduate training mission and flight skill maneuver, with plenty of room to grow over the venerable TH-57.”