Tiltrotors seemingly combine the best of two worlds in the scope of aviation - the fast, straight-line speed of a fixed-wing aircraft with the Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capabilities of a helicopter. The tilting action of the engines allows for such functionality and, therefore, provides a single platform encapsulating the qualities of two aircraft in one - namely versatility and performance. Italian helicopter-maker AgustaWestland (AW), having secured the remainder of the tiltrotor program from Bell Helicopters (a former partner) in November 2011, has taken on development of the AW609. The AW609 is a tiltrotor product intended for the civilian, commercial and special services market. The aircraft is largely based on the original Bell XV-15 of the 1970s which went on to heavily influenced the modern Bell Boeing V-22 "Osprey" currently in service with the U.S. military. As it stands, the AW609 is set to become the first civil-minded tiltrotor anywhere in the world.
The AW609 features a crew of two with internal passenger seating for six to nine people depending on configuration. The cabin is fully pressurized to provide high-altitude flying and can be modified for various roles including Search and Rescue (SAR) and surveillance. A retractable, wheeled undercarriage helps to retain aerodynamic efficiency during flight, conforming to the general shape of the fuselage. High-mounted wings help the engine nacelles in clearing the large diameter, three-bladed composite rotor blades. The engines are fitted at the extreme ends of a composite wing structure and tilt to drive air downwards or level to drive air rearwards, providing lift and/or forward flight as needed. The tail unit is of a "T-style" configuration. The cockpit features an all-glass digital approach with Fly-By-Wire (FBW) controlling, an onboard diagnostics computer, three color Multi-Function Displays (MFDs), GPS navigation and an integrated weather radar. The rotor blades are heated to prevent ice build-up.
The AW609 is cleared with a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) nearing 18,000lbs and is driven by 2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67A turboshaft engines rated at 1,940 horsepower each. This will supply the airframe with a maximum speed of 315 miles per hour with a cruise speed around 300 miles per hour. Rate-of-climb is listed at 1,500 feet per minute with maximum range reported as 860 miles. It is noteworthy that the stated performance figures exceed those as found on traditional helicopter aircraft to which AgustaWestland will assuredly bank on in marketing. Dimensions include an overall length of 46 feet with a height of 16.7 feet and a width of 60 feet including the rotors.
While development for AgustaWestland has proven slow, the aircraft is due for certification sometime in 2017 (though this delayed from 2016). Delays have been blamed on the modernization required of the original Bell design and the attempt to reduce overall costs for when the AW609 inevitably goes into serial production for awaiting customers.
Despite the project headed by AgustaWestland of Europe, the AW609 is being developed stateside near Arlington, Texas in the United States. The uniqueness of the AW609 will force the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to generate an all-new set of standards for tiltrotor civil aircraft. Of course, acceptance into American airspace will go a long way in helping to market the AW609 in other countries and regions. There may also be a second production facility arranged in the United States to complement the existing AgustaWestland establishment in Italy.