Leonardo Helicopters has obtained regulatory clearance for an upgrade to its AW101 that gives more power at take-off.

Approval for the enhancement was granted by Italy’s Directorate for Air Armaments and Airworthiness on 14 March, the manufacturer says.

AW101 Norway-c-Royal Norwegian Air Force

Source: Royal Norwegian Air Force

Norway’s 16-strong AW101 fleet will be progressively upgraded from mid-2025

It confirms test evidence that the type’s GE Aerospace CT7 engines, control systems and main gearbox (MGB) are approved at a higher torque rating of 117%, up from the current maximum of 112%.

This lifts available take-off power to 5,830shp (4,350kW) – or 1,943shp for each of the AW101’s three CT7-8E engines – up from a total of 5,580shp previously, or 1,860shp per engine.

Performance in hot and high conditions is improved, alongside the helicopter’s one engine inoperative capability.

Validation follows flight testing of the upgrade that has been conducted since 2021, including campaigns in the USA and Northern Italy last year.

All AW101 operators using the CT7 engines can benefit from the improved performance, Leonardo Helicopters says; it has already been fielded by one undisclosed customer and will from 2025 be rolled out to the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s (RoNAF’s) SAR Queen fleet.

AW101 Norway second-c-Royal Norwegian Air Force

Source: Royal Norwegian Air Force

Take-off power rises as a result of the higher torque rating

The higher torque rating will be delivered as part of software update SS9 for the Norway All Weather Search and Rescue Helicopter fleet. Flight testing of the first SS9 aircraft will commence in late 2024.

Delivery of the first SS9- and 117% torque-enabled AW101 to the RNoAF is scheduled for the first quarter of 2025, with the upgrade of the operator’s remaining 15 examples to begin by the middle of that year.

Other changes incorporated as part of the SS9 update include optimisation of the SAR Queen’s human machine interface to operate at the higher torque rating.

Leonardo describes the increased take-off power as “the most significant upgrade to the AW101 helicopter since the introduction of CT7 engines to the platform in the mid-2000s”.

Benefits include increased take-off payload, radius of operation, ease of flight handling, expanded at-altitude operations, a reduced maintenance burden, safe landing and recovery techniques in the event of an engine failure, and flight envelope expansion “enabling the AW101 to take-off and land safely from more challenging places than ever”.