Sponsor Content from Leonardo Helicopters

The AW609 tiltrotor: transforming the world of air transport

A state-of-the-art technological revolution to redefine what’s possible in air travel to connect cities centres or reach remote areas.

The revolutionary AW609 tiltrotor aircraft is the most significant technological innovation in the current global aerospace landscape that will transform the world of air transport and vertical lift. The AW609 will be the world’s first tiltrotor aircraft to obtain certification for civil use and it will be initially used in the passenger transportation sector, radically changing the concept of using the "conventional" flight with an airplane or a helicopter.

Technically, the tiltrotor is an aircraft designed and built to synthesise the helicopter’s operational versatility and the airplane’s performance advantages. The helicopter and the airplane will remain faithful to their present formula with the requirements that have made them successful: hovering and vertical take-off/landing for the former; high speed, high altitude and long range flight for the latter.

The ability to integrate so many different characteristics into one vehicle overcoming certain limitations experienced by fixed-and rotary-wing. The result is an aircraft that allows stationary flight and vertical take-off and landing, plus a range and cruising speed twice that of a helicopter of equal capacity and a higher operating altitude. 

Where a helicopter cannot remain for extended periods at high altitudes or high speeds, the tiltrotor provides better performance in terms of altitude. It can cover greater distances in a unit of time while retaining the ability to take-off and land vertically.

The AW609 can complete the conversion procedure, from a helicopter's typical flight profile to that of an aeroplane and vice versa, in less than 40 seconds smoothly whilst tilting its two nacelles with the two purpose-called ‘proprotors’ (so called as each plays the dual role of propeller in airplane mode and rotor in helicopter mode).

The AW609, with an airframe made entirely of modern composite materials, in addition to greater speed and range than a helicopter, features a pressurised cabin and an ice protection system that make it even more versatile, allowing it to fly at an altitude of about 8,000 metres. The AW609 is equipped with a triple digital fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system, which provides excellent manoeuvrability, reduced overall aircraft weight, safety and simplicity/containment of maintenance costs. All the parameters needed to fly the tiltrotor are displayed in an advanced cockpit equipped with liquid crystal touch screens. The modern anti-icing system allows it to fly in the most extreme weather conditions. All major systems are redundant, ensuring smooth operation in case of failure and helping to maintain high safety standards.

The AW609 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67A engines that allow it to fly at over 500 km/h and with a range of almost 1,400 km, which increases to over 2,000 km with auxiliary tanks. For specific missions, to increase range and load capacity, the AW609 can also take off in aeroplane mode with the engine nacelles partially facing forward and travelling along only short sections of runway.

Leonardo is currently developing configurations for different uses of the AW609 tiltrotor. The unique performance, particularly speed, range, agility and flexibility are ideal in passenger transport missions, offshore transport in support of the energy supply industry, patrol and surveillance, search and rescue, medical transport, disaster relief, special operations and government tasks.

For passenger transport (up to nine plus pilot and co-pilot), the AW609 can connect the centre of two cities such as Milan and London, in about two hours flight time, heralding a real revolution in point-to-point connections in a context of innovative inter-urban mobility. Today the fastest way to get from Milan to London is to fly, but flight time is not the only factor to consider. It can take hours, perhaps even a whole morning, to get from home or the office to our final destination in the British capital. In the very near future an AW609 tiltrotor aircraft may be waiting practically ‘outside the door’ to take passengers directly to their destination in approximately two hours. 

In addition, it makes it possible to reach remote areas and localities that today do not have efficient or constant connections, such as the most isolated small islands. This is the case of small communities in small islands, far from the mainland or from the nearest city offering medical care and emergency services. The AW609 could introduce new ‘commuting’ services, accessing remote areas quickly and flexibly, so that even the most isolated communities can feel truly connected to the world and part of a greater whole.

It should also be noted that the AW609 in its VIP configuration represents the flagship for the Agusta VIP brand. The iconic brand Agusta was relaunched last year with the specific objective to reinforce Leonardo’s leading position in the world’s VIP/corporate helicopter market and to pioneer new advanced and sustainable air mobility solutions in the vertical flight domain. The AW609, with bespoke accommodations in a variety of interior options, provides customers the flexibility to choose from interiors with 5 to 7 seats with an optional galley and lavatory. Combined with point-to-point capability avoiding traffic, transfers and runways while travelling in luxury, the AW609 is poised to transform VIP travel, as the highest expression of the values that the Agusta brand embodies: best in class performance, comfort, distinctive design and technology.

The AW609 programme development has recently moved significantly closer to US FAA certification, after which deliveries to customers will begin. The prototypes used in development activities, particularly in the United States and Italy, have clocked almost 1,900 flight hours to date. The final assembly line is based at Leonardo’s US plant in Philadelphia, where manufacturing of the production models has already started. The first production aircraft performed its maiden flight in October 2022. The entire training syllabus with advanced flight simulators and technical support services for customers has also opened in Philadelphia. Most of Leonardo’s Italian factories are involved, also producing key components such as the structure, castings, rotor heads, transmission and avionics integration. Other plants in other Leonardo’s home markets contribute to the programme. Bristow, one of the largest helicopter operators in North America and other parts of the world, will use the AW609 for various tasks. It will be the launch customer for the new tiltrotor in the US for commercial use. At the beginning of 2022 Leonardo added another customer in Europe with an order for four units for passenger transport.