Leonardo Helicopters has revealed the successful conclusion of an initial phase of ship-landing trials for its AW609 tiltrotor as part of a project with the Italian military.

Performed over a 10-day period in early April, the evaluations saw the programme’s production-representative AC4 prototype carry out multiple landings aboard the Italian navy’s ITS Cavour aircraft carrier.

AW609 Cavour 1-c-Leonardo Helicopters

Source: Leonardo Helicopters

Testing was carried in early April using ITS Cavour aircraft carrier

Flights were conducted between the Italian navy’s Maristaer Grottaglie base in southern Italy – located at Grottaglie-Taranto airport – and the Cavour, sailing 20nm (37km) offshore.

Deck landing and take-off procedures were performed in over 15 different conditions, including differing wind speeds, featuring straight-in and lateral approach, vertical landing, vertical take-off, and lateral exit.

Although a civil programme, Leonardo Helicopters has been working since 2022 with the Italian army and navy and Guardia di Finanza customs police to “evaluate the potential of tiltrotor technologies” in addition to their existing fixed- and rotary-wing assets.

Potential missions include logistic transport and maritime surveillance, says Leonardo Helicopters, citing the combination of vertical take-off and landing capability with long range and high speed.

Future demonstrations are planned, the airframer confirms, although it declines to provide details.

In the meantime, it will begin evaluation and analysis of the data collected during the initial test phase.

AW609 Cavour 2-c-Leonardo Helicopters

Source: Leonardo Helicopters

Leonardo Helicopters has been working with Italian navy and army on potential applications for the AW609

“These would allow possible follow-on trials to better refine approaches as well as drive further platform enhancements to operate in the naval [or] embarked environment,” the airframer states.

“This experience provides an important opportunity to appreciate benefits that can truly revolutionise a range of missions or even open new operational possibilities,” says Gian Piero Cutillo, Leonardo Helicopters managing director.

“We thank all of our partners in this demonstration and for the studies undertaken, we look forward to moving to the next stages of evaluation.”

Cutillo had in February indicated that tests with the AW609 on behalf of the Italian armed forces were planned.

Prior to the real-world trials, Leonardo Helicopters carried out a test campaign using the AW609’s development/engineering simulator at the airframer’s Cascina Costa headquarters near Milan where the tiltrotor is usually based.

Leonardo has a factory in Grottaglie, on the other side of the airport from the naval base, where it makes composite centre fuselage barrels for the Boeing 787. The plant was named earlier this week as the location for a second AW609 final assembly line, adding to an existing site in Philadelphia in the USA.

Certification of the AW609 is still in progress, with the manufacturer earlier this year hopeful of securing Federal Aviation Administration approval by late 2024 or early 2025. The programme has racked up over 1,900 flight hours in its decades-long genesis.

AW609 Cavour 3-c-Leonardo Helicopters

Source: Leonardo Helicopters

Future demonstrations with tiltrotor are also contemplated