Leonardo's Trekker
Leonardo's Trekker

Leonardo’s Trekker

Italian manufacturer Leonardo’s light twin Trekker helicopter is ready for takeoff. It received a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) type certificate in late 2017, and FAA approval is expected shortly.

The Trekker is a lower-priced, skidded version of the company’s popular wheeled-landing-gear AW109S Grand/GrandNew. It features advanced single-pilot-capable IFR Genesys Aerosystems avionics and a pair of full authority digital engine control (Fadec)–equipped Pratt & Whitney Canada engines that deliver a maximum speed of 152 knots. The Trekker has a maximum takeoff weight of 7,000 pounds and will have an endurance of four hours, 20 minutes or 445 nautical miles with a modular, five-cell fuel system.

The helicopter is aimed primarily at the emergency medical services and utility markets; but it should also appeal to those who desire greater range, payload, and high/hot performance than the AW109S offers and to those who routinely land on dirt, snow, or sod, where the AW109’s small wheeled gear can get bogged down.

Leonardo's Trekker interior
Leonardo's Trekker interior

Discounting the differences in avionics and landing gear, the Trekker looks pretty much like any other AW109, an aircraft that has been around in one form or another since 1976. Conceived in 1967, the 109 was Agusta’s first clean-sheet-of-paper product (although the company had been successfully building helicopters under contract and designed by others, most notably Bell, for years).

The initial “A” model featured a pair of 420-shp Allison (now Rolls-Royce) 250-C20B turbine engines and a high-speed, four-blade main rotor system. The A109 quickly became one of the most popular rides for the rotor-borne executive set. A U.S. distributor took out an option for 100 units and, for a time, Great Britain’s Royal Air Force even used it to transport the royal family and other VIPs. Law-enforcement, search-and-rescue, military, and air-ambulance variants also were developed. Upgrades to the aircraft over the years have included up-rated engines and transmissions; better avionics; improved hydraulic, drive-shaft, and rotor systems; redesigned maintenance access panels and tail boom; beefier landing gear; single-pilot IFR capability; and sliding cabin doors for utility and military operators.

In 1997, Agusta launched the A109E Power. The Power is slightly larger, the avionics are more modern, and the engines are more powerful. The instrument panel was updated with a six-screen LCD display. Customers had a choice of two engines for the Power: Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206 or the Turbomeca Arrius. The Pratts, while notorious for belching soot all over the tail boom, were otherwise fine under most circumstances but the Turbomecas provided slightly more power for operating in high/hot conditions, such as around mountains in the summer.

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Either way, customers got 25 percent more takeoff power (about 1,300 shp) than with the Allison 250s in the original 109s and a maximum cruising speed of 154 knots. The larger marketplace also embraced the helicopter: AgustaWestland has received orders for more than 470 AW109E Powers from 50 nations. Almost half of these were for aircraft customized for executive transport. In this configuration, the Power remains largely unchanged from the original 109s; two pilot positions up front—although it can be flown well with one—and two facing benches behind with room for four to five passengers.

With a full complement of fuel, the Power has a ferry range of 440 nautical miles and a useful load of 1,287 pounds. Of course, most executive helicopter flights last less than 30 minutes, requiring nowhere near full fuel. Typically laden with passengers, a Power has a range of 260 nautical miles and can stay in the air for slightly less than two hours with a 30-minute reserve.

The bench seats are a tad cramped for longer trips and tall pilots find the cockpit somewhat confining, but that rap applies to most helicopters in this class. AgustaWestland did attempt to improve passenger ergonomics by subsequently offering the Power Elite model, which provides better rear bench pitch at the expense of slightly less fuel capacity. An extended 34-cubic-foot cargo-hold option is also available, but passengers still need to pack light.

Leonardo's Trekker
Leonardo's Trekker

Agusta merged with Britain’s GKN Westland Helicopters in 2000 and the entire company became a subsidiary of Agusta’s parent firm, the Italian Finmeccanica Group, in 2004. That same year, the company introduced the stretched-cabin 109S Grand, the fuselage that serves as the foundation for the Trekker—a model that incorporates all the improvements over the years but substitutes the skid gear and less-expensive avionics.

The Trekker features a cocoon-type airframe, a crash-resistant fuel system, and a 30-minute “run-dry” main gearbox. The aircraft can accommodate six passengers (seven if one occupies the copilot’s seat). The skid gear allows you to equip the helicopter with emergency pop-out floats, adding another dimension of safety for overwater operations. However, the Trekker’s main attraction is its price: nearly $3 million less than you’d pay for a fully dressed-out GrandNew, thanks to the less-expensive avionics, a more spartan interior, and the absence of retractable gear.

Of course, if you want to drop an extra couple of hundred grand for more luxury in the cabin, there are options: 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.

But the Trekker appeals to those who want to use their helicopter more like an SUV than a limousine and don’t mind saving a few million bucks in the process.       

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