AgustaWestland has begun the certification test phase for its AW609 commercial tiltrotor.

The two AW609 prototypes, AC1 in the U.S. and AC2 in Italy, have flown almost 1,000 hr. between them, a third of which were flown in the last two years since AgustaWestland took full control of the program from Bell Helicopter, which was a partner until 2011.

Test pilots completed flight envelope expansion trials in December 2013, and the company plans to increase the flying rate further in 2014.

For the first time, the company is carrying out a series of demonstration flights from Long Beach Airport near the Heli-Expo site in Anaheim, Calif., for potential customers as it works to rebuild a customer base and confidence in the long-delayed program.

The first prototype, AC1, which is based in Arlington, Texas, with the AgustaWestland Tiltrotor Company (AWTC), is being used for the demo flights. It was flown from Texas in 6 hr.; officials are particularly pleased with the final leg of the journey, which saw the AW609 fly between Mesa, Ariz., and Long Beach nonstop with a 20-kt. headwind in 1 hr., 35 min. at 20,000 ft., burning 1,000 lb. of fuel per hour. The straight-line distance between the two is around 365 mi.

Other trials completed with the AW609 in 2013 included slope landings, run-on landings, aero-elastic stability testing and high-altitude stability testing.

The company says it is continuing to test new, improved systems for the aircraft including new air data and inertial reference systems, as well as working with potential suppliers for items such as improved air conditioning and a new enlarged cabin door.

A third prototype — AC3 — is now being assembled at AgustaWestland’s Vergiate facility near Milan and will join the flight-test program later this year in support of this certification flight-testing. A fourth prototype will join the certification program at a later date to allow the Rockwell Collins Fusion avionics suite to be tested.

The company is now targeting 2017 for FAA certification of the tiltrotor under the FAA’s Powered Lift category. First deliveries to customers are expected to take place at the end of 2017 or early 2018.