After several years out of the public eye, Leonardo’s AW609 tiltrotor aircraft re-emerged as the centerpiece of the aerospace and defense company’s display at the 2021 Dubai Airshow this month. The appearance comes on the back of reports the aircraft could finally be approaching certification, almost two decades after it first flew.
Originally flown in 2003, the AW609 has been in development so long that its name keeps changing. It started out as the Bell/Agusta BA609, then became the AgustaWestland AW609, and now the Leonardo AW609. Not only has its unconventional tilt rotor design required prolonged flight testing, it has also suffered from problems with certification, declining preorders, and a fatal crash in 2015.
Now Leonardo seems to be breathing new life into the project by sending it out for its first air show appearance outside the United States and Europe. Dubai is a logical venue for this because Leonardo already has a strong commercial relationship with the UAE, stating it has already sold the Emirates over 100 helicopters, advanced naval technologies, secure communications, space technologies, and training aircraft.
Four prototypes of the AW609 have been built and two production aircraft are now taking shape at the company’s North American headquarters in Philadelphia, where a training academy is also being established. In October this year, Leonardo’s CEO Alessandro Profumo told Reuters the company expects the aircraft to be certified by the FAA in 2022.
The AW609 resembles the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, though it is smaller and is aimed at the civilian rather than the military market. It was first presented for VIP and oil and gas producers, but is also suitable for passenger flights, medical care, and search and rescue operations.
Capable of lifting off and hovering like a helicopter, the AW609 can tilt its rotor nacelles to fly horizontally like an airplane for greater speed and range. It can carry up to nine passengers or 5,500 lb (2,500 kg) of cargo, and its two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67A turboshaft engines give it a top speed of 509 km/h (316 mph, 275 kn) and a range of 1,389 km (863 miles), or over 2,000 km (1,200 miles) with auxiliary tanks.