Making five stops on the way to Dubai from Italy due to limitations on the range of the test aircraft, the AW609 tiltrotor arrived in the Middle East last month for display at Expo 2020. The tiltrotor took a break from its Expo duties to make its Dubai Airshow debut.
With further work pending to achieve Federal Aviation Administration certification, Leonardo has announced an order by launch customer Bristow for the tiltrotor and will likely continue testing its four prototypes well into next year.
The AW609 flew to Dubai for the opening ceremony of the innovative Expo 2020 helicopter terminal, built by Leonardo in partnership with Abu Dhabi-based oil and gas operator and charter provider Falcon Aviation Services.
AW609 test pilot Gianfranco Cito, one of only 10 pilots approved to fly the tiltrotor, said testing will be complete by August 2022. “The type of mission could be civilian use or potentially search and rescue or police-type work," he said. "The key concept is that you can fly high, fast, and vertical.”
The AW609 can fly at over 270 knots and to a range of more than 750 nm, which increases to almost 1,100 nm with auxiliary tanks. It can accommodate nine passengers, flies at a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet, and can take off vertically in helicopter mode or from runways with rotors set in a more horizontal position.
William Sunick, head of tiltrotor marketing at Leonardo, said FAA certification is a key goal for the AW609 program. Its hybrid nature led to a new approach from the FAA, which is conducting classification efforts on the basis that FAA Part 23, Part 25, and Part 29 regulations all apply to the aircraft.
“It's not a one-size-fits-all," Sunick said. "It's using the existing regulatory basis. That'll help...to see which criteria are applicable to this from an aircraft configuration point of view. And then there might be some new ones that we're looking at. We have huge flexibility because we can take off as a helicopter, as an airplane—or something in between.”
Such capability made testing and approval a lot more complex, according to Sunick. “We need to have this broad certification basis," he said. "And that's also one of the reasons why we are taking, let me say, a longer time to reach the certification—because we need to demonstrate things.”
Leonardo maintains strong ties to the UAE civil and defense sectors and hopes to use those relationships to create business for the tiltrotor. The company is also showcasing its helicopters and a wide range of other equipment at the airshow.
“In 2019, the Dubai Airshow was the last major aerospace and defense event before the pandemic,” said Leonardo chief commercial officer Pasquale Di Bartolomeo. “This year’s edition, taking place as we start to emerge from the global emergency caused by Covid-19, is going to be an important showcase for Leonardo. Our partners in the UAE and in the whole Middle East continue to be of great importance to Leonardo, and we believe that the Dubai Airshow will give us the chance to further strengthen these ties and pursue a range of business opportunities.”