Leonardo Asks FAA to Allow Simulated Touchdown Autorotation for AW609 Certification

By Frank Wolfe | October 12, 2018
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Leonardo AW609 Era Group

Era Group becomes launch customer for Leonardo AW609 Era Group. Photo courtesy of Leonardo

While Leonardo awaits FAA certification of its AW609 civil tiltrotor next year, the company has asked the FAA to waive the agency's requirement for one flight-based touchdown autorotation and to permit the company to use a simulator instead.

Dan Wells, Leonardo's AW609 test pilot, told R&WI Oct. 12 that the company believes it can demonstrate the touchdown autorotation by using the company simulator, rather than run the risk of damaging an AW609 and its parts.


"We've done autorotations in the simulator showing that we can fly it down and do a landing with the power off," he said. "We don't want to hurt the aircraft."

A retired U.S. Army helicopter pilot and graduate of the U.S. Navy Flight Test School, Wells was named the Society of Experimental Test Pilots' fellow this month in recognition of his three decades of piloting and accumulation of 7,200 flight hours.

Wells said Leonardo has performed dozens of flight-based autorotations of the AW609, including ones at different centers of gravity and with varying gross weights.

"We did autorotation testing in a tiltrotor, which is something the V-22 never did," he said. "The XV-15 did it once."

Because of the weight of the V-22 and the requirements for its rotors to fit aboard ships, the V-22 has much higher disc loading and higher descent rates than the AW609, which has a "reasonable" descent rate — "slightly higher than a Black Hawk, but nothing like the V-22," Wells said.

"It's a safer touchdown for us than it would be for a V-22," he said. "We also have PT6 engines, which never fail."

Pratt & Whitney Canada builds the PT6 turboshaft family of engines.

The AW609 has also gone through vortex-ring-state testing to demonstrate aircraft safety, Wells said.

To develop certification requirements for the AW609, which is slated to be the first certified civil tiltrotor, the FAA examined a number of sections of the Federal Aviation Regulations for fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, including Parts 23, 25, 27 and 29.

Leonardo has said the safe operation of the aircraft will likely change behavior of consumers and their views of travel.

One possible use of the AW609 could be ferrying small groups of passengers to Manhattan or other major cities without the delays associated with airplane travel, Leonardo has said.

In February, Leonardo said Era Group will be the launch customer for the AW609 and that Era has ordered two 609s for a 2020 entry to service.

Earlier this year, Leonardo said it has received interest from operators for 50 609s.

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