The first AW609 production aircraft made its maiden flight in October, a major milestone for what Leonardo, the manufacturer, says it’s the world’s first multirole tiltrotor programme. Designed to redefine a wide range of commercial and public services, this aircraft will fly under a dedicated ‘powered lift category’ civil certification which is under development. The aircraft involved in the maiden flight, designated AC5, performed as expected during the initial in-flight systems and general handling evaluation at Leonardo’s US production site in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The first production aircraft joined three other aircraft which are currently involved in the last stages of testing ahead of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification. AC5 will be retained by Leonardo and will take part in customer demonstrations and mission capability evaluation. Earlier this year the AW609 launch customer in the United States, Bristow Group, had participated in a demonstration flight in Philadelphia (with a non- production aircraft). Among the first potential users, an undisclosed and long-established European operator of Leonardo’s helicopters is reported to be aiming to introduce four tiltrotors for passenger transport missions, as part of its point-to-point operations worldwide.
The AW609 can transport nine passengers in a pressurised cabin, and Leonardo predicts it will transform private and business travel, as well as search and rescue (SAR) and emergency medical service (EMS) missions in both the private and public sectors. To date, the programme has logged nearly 1,900 flight hours in the US and Italy.