Leonardo Expects Tiltrotor Milestones To Slip Into 2024


Despite first flight 20 years ago, the AW609 still awaits type certification.

Credit: Andrew Oxley / Alamy Stock Photo

ATLANTA—Key milestones for Leonardo Helicopters’ tiltrotor development, including certification of its AW609 and the first flight of its Next Generation Civil Tilt Rotor (NGCTR) technology demonstrator, look set to slip into 2024.

Supply chain issues are pacing the development of the NGCTR—the company’s EU Clean Sky 2-funded high-speed rotorcraft—which had been due to fly for the first time later this year, said Matteo Ragazzi, Leonardo Helicopters’ director of engineering and innovation.

Ragazzi gave the update at a press conference on the eve of Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo here March 6, saying engineering teams hope to power-on the aircraft “as quick and as soon as possible.” First flight now will come later than planned, likely slipping into 2024, he suggested.

Meanwhile, the company has entered the final stage of certification-testing activities on the AW609, Leonardo Helicopters Managing Director Gian Piero Cutillo says.

“We’ve entered the final stage of certification-oriented testing activities while moving forward on the path of product industrialization,” Cutillo told the same press conference.

However, he said was not sure whether the tiltrotor would secure its long-awaited type certificate this year, 20 years after its first flight.

“It’s difficult to say whether will be able to do this within 2023 or next year, but we are getting closer to that timeframe,” he says.

Testing efforts have seen an FAA flight crew taking part in pre-Type Inspection Authorization (TIA) activities for the AW609. In February the U.S. team was present for testing in Italy using prototype AC4.

Cutillo says the first TIA flight activities are expected to get underway shortly, replicating specific flight testing.

Leonardo is planning to certify the AW609 under the new Powered Lift certification category. That category demands that tiltrotor aircraft are approved under a mix of regulations taken from FAR Part 29—for helicopters weighing more than 7,000 lb.—and the Part 23 and 25 rules that apply to fixed-wing aircraft.

Despite the lengthy delays to the program, Cutillo said the rotorcraft market was “positively assessing and reacting to the AW609.”

Work also is underway on the first three production aircraft, two of which will be delivered to launch customer Bristow Group. Last year the OEM secured its biggest order to date for the AW609 from an undisclosed European VIP operator that signed on for four aircraft.

The General Electric CT7-powered NGCTR, which uses a donor AW609 fuselage, is expected to test five technologies to support the development of future tiltrotors and high-speed rotorcraft. These include a fixed-engine split gearbox mechanism, which eliminates the need for the engine to be tilted; a new, simpler straight wing, which will feature a flaperon section mid-wing that will reduce the impact of download on the wing and help to increase lift in rotor-borne flight; a V-tail, replacing the AW609’s T-tail, that will improve aerodynamics and stability in airplane mode; and a lightweight, modular, scalable and lower-cost fly-by-wire control system that could benefit conventional rotorcraft as well.

More from HAI Heli-Expo:

See all the news and analysis from HAI Heli-Expo 2023

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.