Piaggio has revealed it is working with partner Leonardo on a new version of its P.1HH HammerHead unmanned air vehicle. It comes as the Italian airframer winds up its flight test programme and prepares to hand over the first of eight examples of the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) system to launch customer the United Arab Emirates.

Piaggio – owned by UAE sovereign wealth fund Mubadala – hopes to have the “P.2HH” available for delivery by 2023, says chief executive Renato Vaghi. The successor aircraft will continue to be based on Piaggio’s P180 twin-pusher business turboprop but will “in many respects be a new platform, with a new wing, more use of composite materials, and re-thought systems”.

Vaghi says the programme will be “co-developed” with the Italian and UAE armed forces, both of which will provide funding. Piaggio may seek to create a formal “industrial alliance” with Leonardo to create a “single entity for the customer to deal with,” he says. “We have a very strong relationship with Leonardo [on the P.1HH], but this alliance will be stronger on the P2.”

The UAE will take delivery of six P.1HHs this year, and the remaining two in 2019. Although the Italian government has supported the development of what Piaggio calls “Europe’s only remotely piloted MALE system” by providing test facilities at Sicily’s Trapani air base, the Gulf nation remains the only confirmed customer for the UAV, for which Leonardo provides the mission system.

Vaghi says the entry into service of the P.1HH will be a major moment for Piaggio, which was given a $300 million bailout late last year by its shareholder, to help it restructure after a lean decade or so for its core executive aviation business. “I cannot stress how important this milestone is for us,” he says. “We will be the first European MALE to market. We have had to change the entire nature of the company.”

Piaggio launched the P.1HH at the Paris air show in 2013, flying a demonstrator later that year. However, the first prototype crashed off Sicily in May 2016, about 100h into the flight test campaign. The company flew a second prototype in July last year, and has since added two further examples to the flight test programme, with hours on wing now exceeding 200h. In May it completed one of the final steps in the campaign with beyond radio line of sight (BRLOS) sorties.

Source: FlightGlobal.com