Flight International test pilot Peter Gray was given world-exclusive access to AgustaWestland's multirole AW159 in late April, becoming the first civilian to fly the type. Flown from the company's Yeovil production site in Somerset, his 1h evaluation sought to assess the aircraft's performance against a 40-year pedigree developed through the company's previous family of Lynx rotorcraft.
When I walked out to the flight line and saw our aircraft it looked, initially, like another Lynx but, on closer inspection, it was certainly not. The nose and tail sections are completely different, as is the four-bladed, composite tail rotor, which requires no lubrication.
I did recognise the composite main rotor blades - on a titanium head with their distinctive tip design - a major contributor to the then-Westland machine which in 1986 achieved the world speed record for a helicopter flown in level flight. Its mark of 216.6kt (400km/h) still stands. The fastest I have been is slightly more than 200kt, downhill in a two-seat attack/combat helicopter.
The AW159's main rotor can be folded for parking in a confined area, such as on board a ship, but its tail end, as yet, cannot. Neither the UK Royal Navy or export customer South Korea have requested such an enhancement for their aircraft, and the tail houses a lot of "special" equipment, says its manufacturer.
AgustaWestland has built on its more than 35 years of global experience with the Lynx family, other models and, particularly, with the Super Lynx 300 series which I tested for Flight International in 2002, to produce a new, modern design. This makes the AW159 a truly multirole, maritime and onshore machine.