By S.L. Fuller | January 19, 2018
A little more than eight months before the NTSB issued probable cause for the fatal 2016 Bell Helicopter 525 prototype crash, Italian investigators issued a final report for the fatal 2015 Leonardo AW609 prototype crash. Although the fly-by-wire tiltrotor program’s progress was slowed, Leonardo is still aiming to enter its AW609 into service next year.
In August 2016, some nine months after the second prototype’s crash occurred, the manufacturer resumed flight testing with its first prototype. By February 2017, flight testing had allowed full testing of avionics and other systems.
Not too long after, artificial icing tests were completed in Marquette, Michigan. Leonardo reiterated that the AW609 is the first commercial tiltrotor to complete these trials. The artificial tests “laid the groundwork” for future natural icing tests, the manufacturer said.
Late last year, fuselage fatigue testing began at the Leonardo Helicopters facility in Poland. Leonardo told R&WI in a recent program update that additional supplier component certification test is “proceeding well and according to plan.”
The AW609’s engine program is also progressing. Pratt & Whitney Canada said at 2017’s Helitech International that its PT6C-67A engine received certification from Transport Canada. Leonardo said since then it has also received FAA certification.
Leonardo said the engine features a new compressor with advanced aerodynamics. The new compressor and turbine, which is made with “state-of-the-art materials,” allow for increased power and reduced fuel consumption. The engine has been certified to enable continuous operation in a vertical position. Leonardo said it recently retrofitted the engine of the third prototype for certification tests.
At the same time, the first prototype is undergoing preparation for load level survey testing.
According to Leonardo, the fourth prototype should be assembled this year. It would be the first to feature Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line Fusion. That aircraft would focus on avionics testing and certification.
If all goes as planned, Leonardo will be able to begin delivering the tiltrotor in 2019. The manufacturer said it is continuing to finalize the plans for all of the certification documentation with the FAA.
Leonardo is also working on developing international standards for civil tiltrotor operations. In May 2017, the company briefed ICAO on changes that would need to be made to cover air and ground movements. The organization’s Flight Operations Panel recommended late last year that the Tiltrotor Guidance Material be approved and published to member states, Leonardo said.