AgustaWestland AW109E Power
A few relatively minorconcerns notwithstanding, thisfeature-packed and stylish model delivers excellent value.
The AgustaWestland AW109 light twin helicopter has been on the market since 1976 and has undergone several permutations, gaining weight, interior width and power along the way. Timeless Italian styling and fast speed have made this helicopter a popular choice for executive transport for decades.
However, it wasn’t until the introduction of the AW109E Power model in 1997 that most industry critics believed the manufacturer had delivered the proper combination of engine power and features. In 2005, AgustaWestland instituted a simplified service program for the AW109E, designed to bring down maintenance costs. But it has been only in the last few years that the company has moved meaningfully to give the model the product support it deserves.
There’s a lot to like with the Power. The fuselage is built solid to military standards. The ship has minimum crosswind yaw and handles turbulence well. Its combination of power and compact rotor disc means that it can get into and out of tight spaces. The wheeled landing gear makes it easy to move around at an airport and stash in a hangar. Pilots report it is a great platform for instrument flying.
The cabin volume—124 cubic feet—is not best in class but not worst, either. Still, filling up all six tight seats in back is never a great idea, and you probably can’t most of the time, anyway. While available payload with full fuel is 1,287 pounds—about enough for a pilot, four passengers and gear—that weight limit shrinks precipitously when you add air conditioning, a plush executive interior and cabin sound-dampening.
Carry any kind of load and you’re looking at a big fuel-carrying and range penalty; but that’s not a big deal, as the 109 mostly flies inter-urban missions of 30 minutes or less. Typically laden in executive configuration, an AW109E has a range of about 260 nautical miles, enough to make the hop from the Wall Street Heliport in Manhattan to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. in 83 minutes with comfortable reserves and powered back to 134 knots.
Customers had a choice of two engines for the Power: Pratt & Whitney Canada’s P206C or the Turbomeca Arrius. Both feature full digital controls and spool up fast. With either engine, you get 25 percent more takeoff power (some 1,300 shp) than with the Allison 250s in the original 109s and a maximum cruising speed of 154 knots.
The Pratts, while notorious for belching soot all over the tail boom, are otherwise fine under most circumstances: but the Turbomecas provide slightly more power for operating in high/hot conditions, such as mountain flying in the summer. However, the Pratts are somewhat more maintenance friendly. The knock on Turbomeca product support is largely lore of the past and the company has made great strides to improve customer service worldwide.
Buyers of used AW109Es will face a few issues that are endemic to this model.
All that engine power, coupled with operating repeatedly at or near maximum weights, can stress the transmission, and there are reports of them not making it to overhaul intervals when operated in this manner. Factory paint has been reported as “thin,” so if you’re having the interior re-ragged, you might want to opt for new paint at the same time. The newer composite main and tail-rotor blades have longer life and a lower external noise signature, so you’ll want to make sure your 109 has these. The seals on the cabin doors have been known to let water pass, so you’d be wise to have them inspected periodically. The external cabin step that deploys automatically with the landing gear could be more robust, and fixing it isn’t cheap.
Also, the AW109 must be towed with care on the ground to avoid failure of the nose-wheel gear. A telling point here is that the nose gear must be modified if you want your Power to qualify for an optional 330-pound gross-weight increase. In very hot climates, the air conditioning is weak. While the cockpit is advanced for its time, the absence of visible throttles has led some hurried pilots to try to lift off with only one engine operating at takeoff power. These occurrences have been rare, however.
As noted earlier, service and support for all AgustaWestland helicopters is much improved in recent years, mainly due to growth of the manufacturer’s Philadelphia outpost. The company reports that it can provide owners of preowned aircraft with many services, including power-by-the-hour maintenance plans; pilot and maintenance training; component overhauls; avionics and VIP cabin upgrades; and installation of entertainment systems, radar and satellite phones.
If you want something elaborate in the cabin, you can turn to the Mecaer Aviation Group, located near AW Philadelphia, or the Rotorcraft Service Group in Fort Worth, Texas, both of which have strong reputations when it comes to AW109 interiors. The latter company offers window shades for the helicopter and a particularly popular aftermarket air conditioner that weighs 82 pounds and features a compressor rated at 28,000 BTU.
If you must have more cabin room than a standard AW109E provides, be advised that it’s available in three successor aircraft—albeit at a big price premium. The AW109 Power Elite features more generous backrest pitch on the rear bench seat, affording more passenger headroom. The tradeoff is slightly less fuel capacity and a reduction in range of about 15 minutes. Another option is the AW109S Grand, which the manufacturer introduced in 2005. The Grand adds two and a half inches of interior cabin width and uprates the useful load limit by nearly 300 pounds. It does this partly via a 69-gallon decrease in fuel capacity, which reduces range by almost an hour. Then there’s the AW109SP Grand New, introduced in 2010, which also adds two and a half inches of cabin width and additionally offers avionics upgrades to the Grand, including enhanced-vision and terrain-awareness warning systems, synthetic vision and a four-axis digital autopilot.
A factory-fresh Grand New will set you back $8.3 million, while a good 2005 Power can be had for around $2 million. If a few extra inches of cabin space and the latest and greatest avionics aren’t all that important to you and maximum range is, you’ll find that a used AW109E Power offers value that’s hard to beat.