Leonardo Flies First Production AW609 Commercial Tiltrotor

Credit: Leonardo Helicopters

Leonardo has flown the first production AW609 commercial tiltrotor in a major milestone for the program.

The AW609—registered N609LH—flew from the company’s Philadelphia facility on Oct. 13. The manufacturer stated that a further three customer aircraft are now on the final assembly line.

Known as AC5, the aircraft is formally the first AW609 to be produced—the four prototypes that supported the development program were all modified from when the aircraft was first developed as the Agusta-Bell BA609; one of which was lost in an accident in Italy during a test flight in 2015.

“This amazing achievement adds to several milestones for the AW609 program over the last year, through its technical progress and during its public appearances,” Leonardo Helicopters Managing Director Gian Piero Cutillo said Oct. 19.

“Together, this testifies to the level of maturity this ground-breaking program has reached and our credentials to pioneer in the emerging fast rotorcraft domain,” Cutillo added.

Despite the development progress on the aircraft, the company is still awaiting approvals from the U.S. FAA to certify the aircraft under the Powered Lift category.

The 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.

The AW609 is one of several commercial rotorcraft that have faced certification delays. That is in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also fallout from the Boeing 737 MAX debacle.

AC5 will be used by Leonardo for customer demonstrations, as well as what the OEM describes as “mission capability evaluation and expansion, and supporting the manufacturer and the operators in the transition from the developmental to the operational phase once on the market.”

The aircraft will join AC3 to continue flight-testing in the U.S., while AC4 is performing test flights in Italy. The company says the development aircraft are current involved in what it calls the “last stages of testing activity” before FAA certification.

The program has logged nearly 1,900 flight hours in the U.S. and Italy, the company stated.

Other milestones in the program over the last 12 months include the appearance of AC4 at the Dubai Airshow in November 2021 after a ferry flight to the Middle East, while launch customer, Bristow Group—which will take AC6—participated in a demonstration flight.

The OEM also announced that an undisclosed European rotorcraft operator planned to purchase four AW609s for worldwide point-to-point operations.

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.