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.
On October 30th, 2015, the second prototype crashed killing both of its test pilots. The crashed occurred in Vergiate northeast of Turin. This has grounded the first prototype, currently residing in the United States, from further flight testing.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced its intention to invest in the AW609 Tiltrotor program with the commitment to become three aircraft
November 2015 - United Arab Emirates Joint Aviation Command has contracted for three AW609 tiltrotors in a Search-and-Rescue (SAR) configuration.
May 2016 - The AW609 program has encountered another setback as Italian prosecutors have confiscated the third AW609 prototype - delaying its delivery to the United States for flight testing.
January 2016 - Leonardo has resumed flight testing of its AW609 Tiltrotor aircraft. The product is set to be certified sometime in 2018.
March 2017 - Certification for the AW609 has been reaffirmed for 2018. A third flyable prototype has been added to the flight testing program with a fourth prototype currently under construction.
February 2018 - In another delay for the AW609 program, certification is now scheduled for the end of 2019.
February 2018 - The AW609 is on pace to enter service some time in 2020.
March 2018 - FAA certification of the AW609 has been delayed until late-2019. Service entry is still on pace for some time in 2020. Leonardo will add a production standard (forth prototype) to the AW609 stable before the end of 2018. The company claims to have some 50 units on order from various global customers to date.
March 2019 - The AW609 inches closer to commercial type certification, some sixteen years since the passing of its first-flight. A forth prototype is currently under construction while the fifth air vehicle will represent the finalized production form. A sixth aircraft will be readied for final assembly and customer delivery.
Italy (possible); United Arab Emirates (ordered); United States (possible)
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Special-Mission: MEDical EVACuation (MEDEVAC)
Extraction of wounded combat or civilian elements by way of specialized onboard equipment and available internal volume or external carrying capability.
✓Special-Mission: Search & Rescue (SAR)
Ability to locate and extract personnel from areas of potential harm or peril (i.e. downed airmen in the sea).
Used in roles serving the commercial aviation market, ferrying both passengers and goods over range.
Used in the Very-Important-Person (VIP) passenger transport role, typically with above-average amenities and luxuries as standard.
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
44.0 ft (13.40 m)
38.4 ft (11.70 m)
22.0 ft (6.70 m)
10,483 lb (4,755 kg)
16,755 lb (7,600 kg)
+6,272 lb (+2,845 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Leonardo AW609 TiltRotor production variant)
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