Commercial

Leonardo Prepares to Resume AW609 Flight Tests

By James T. McKenna | July 11, 2016


An update to this story can be found here.

Leonardo Helicopters is looking to restart AW609 flight tests that it suspended voluntarily after the Oct. 30, 2015, crash of the No. 2 prototype, officials of the parent company said today at the Farnborough Air Show. 

"We think that we can continue to move onto certification" toward the end of 2018, Leonardo CEO Mauro Moretti said. While that is a slip from the company's target of certification next year, Moretti said the company doesn't believe it will delay first deliveries of the civil tiltrotor to customers.

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The No. 2 prototype crashed in October after breaking up in midair during high-speed tests southwest of Leonardo Helicopters’ Italian headquarters in Cascina Costa. Both test pilots were killed. Italy’s ANSV accident investigation agency late last month said they are assessing what role an unexpected feature of the AW609's high-speed flight-control software may have played in a prototype's fatal October in-flight breakup in Italy.

When the aircraft broke up, the flight crew was attempting a third dive to the AW609's maximum dive speed of 293 kt indicated airspeed (KIAS) with a new aft fuselage and empennage configuration. The ANSV said the aircraft’s "behavior at high speed was not completely predicted by the manufacturer" in a June 23 preliminary report. 

The manufacturer had planned to bring the No. 3 prototype from Italy to the U.S. for flight tests this summer, but criminal investigators in Italy (whose probe is mandated for fatal accidents and takes place over the safety investigation) impounded the aircraft in May. 

After the October crash, Leonardo began reworking the No. 1 AW609 to the current design configuration with plans to send that aircraft to Italy for flight tests.

The No. 1 AW609 resumed testing in mid-April and the No. 3 aircraft at that time underwent tethered ground runs. 

The manufacturer also is assembling a fourth flight test aircraft at its facility in Philadelphia, with plans for it to enter flight tests next year.

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