Even as AgustaWestland continues to refine the performance of its developmental AW609 civil tiltrotor, the airframer is considering its future plans for the design.
Clive Scott, programme manager for the AW609, says it could easily increase the size of the aircraft, which can presently accommodate nine passengers. “The design is inherently scalable, which arguably is not the case with some of our competitors.
“Work is ongoing for the future - we are looking at opportunities; we are looking at the next generation.”
AgustaWestland chief executive Daniele Romiti underlines this strategy, confirming that a “second-generation tiltrotor is already in our future plans”.
Meanwhile, flight test activities with its two prototype aircraft are continuing as AgustaWestland looks to finalise the envelope expansion work that started when it acquired Bell Helicopter’s 50% share of the programme in 2011.
The rate of test flights has dramatically increased since then, says Scott. Of the 820h accumulated since the first prototype made its maiden sortie in 2003, around 300h have been flown in the last two years, he says.
Two further examples – to be used for icing trials and avionics integration work – are currently in production at AgustaWestland’s Vergiate plant. The third aircraft will make its debut in the middle of 2014, says Scott, with its sister aircraft scheduled to fly by around September of the following year.
Certification is pegged for 2017, having been pushed back from 2016, as AgustaWestland implements a wide range of improvements over the aircraft it inherited.
Major enhancements include the latest version of Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6 powerplants, a new flight-control computer from BAE Systems and Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics.
On top of this, the airframer has made a number of additional aerodynamic and weight-saving improvements, such as a reshaped exhaust and modified vertical fin, to boost the type’s performance.
And more tweaks could be in the pipeline, says Scott. “An extra year gives us the chance to introduce additional weight-saving modifications – we are already working on upgraded landing gear,” he notes.
It has also pushed forward work to enable higher-weight departures in short take-off mode, with a target weight of 18,000lb (8172kg), says Scott.
The delay in certification has also enabled the airframer to institute a cost-saving programme with suppliers in order to cut the purchase price of the aircraft.
So far, tentative commitments for the AW609 number around 70.