The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has ordered three AW609 tiltrotor aircraft, with an option for three more. The order was placed during the Dubia Air Show and comes ten days after the fatal crash of an AW609 during a test flight in Italy. AgustaWestland has stated the crash occured during a high speed test.
The UAE announcement took many by surprise, as an order for Bell V-22 Osprey tiltrotors seemed much more likely. The UAE will use the AW609s for search and rescue missions, along with AW139 helicopters already in use. Deliveries are to start in four years from now.
The AW609 that crashed was nearing the end of its test program, with 567 hours flown already. The impact on the test program is not yet known. In a statement released earlier this week, AgustaWestland’s parent company Finmeccanica said it is fully committed to mitigating any delay the accident, and the subsequent investigation, might have on the program itself.
The AgustaWestland AW609 tilt-rotor aircraft will enter production, the Italian-Anglo manufacturer announced on 3 March 2015.
The company has expanded the AW609 program to include the AgustaWestland Philadelphia, USA, facility through its designation as the first final assembly line for the only civil tilt-rotor in development to date. A second final assembly line is expected to be established at AgustaWestland’s Vergiate facility in Italy at a later date.
AgustaWestland currently has two prototypes undergoing flight testing with a third in final assembly. The first prototype aircraft will continue flying at the AgustaWestland facility in Arlington, Texas in parallel with FAA Certification support work at AgustaWestland’s Philadelphia facility. The fourth prototype will be assembled in Philadelphia in 2016.
Full integration of the AW609 program into AgustaWestland Philadelphia’s operations is expected by third quarter 2015, and will include facility expansions as required to accommodate the AW609 TiltRotor engineering, certification, and aircraft assembly activities.
Lately AgustaWestland has increased the maximum take-off weight up to 18,000 lbs (8,165 kg) thanks to engine upgrades, landing gear modifications and optimized flight control techniques. These test results validate a sizeable increase in useful load that provides users with the capability to fly 500 nautical miles point-to-point with a full load of nine passengers in two hours.
To further enhance mission capabilities underwing auxiliary fuel tanks are being developed to increase range and endurance and ensure that the additional take-off performance may be built into a wide array of mission profiles. These will permit the aircraft to boost its maximum range to 1,100 nm (2,038 km) and allow users to transport six passengers over a range of 800 nm (1,482 km) in a little over three hours. The cabin door is also being enlarged on all variants to improve access, in particular for search-and-rescue (SAR) and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) operations.
The AW609 aircraft have so far logged nearly 1,200 hours. Nearly 60 aircraft have been ordered to date for a variety of roles and missions, including offshore transportation, emergency medical services and patient transfer, search and rescue, VIP, and law-enforcement operations.