Leonardo’s helicopter division admits the certification timeline for its AW609 civil tiltrotor has slipped slightly as a result of last October's fatal crash involving the second flight-test prototype. However it intends to return the aircraft to flight "in a matter of weeks" and will operate it both airplane and helicopter modes.
Speaking to FlightGlobal at the Farnborough air show, divisional chief Daniele Romiti said “the programme is moving on”.
Two flight-test articles remain following the loss of the second prototype (N609AG) on 30 October 2015; PT1 in the USA and PT3 in Italy.
However, with the test fleet grounded by the company in the wake of the crash, the certification target has now slipped, says Romiti.
US Federal Aviation Administration approval is now likely to take place in early 2018, rather than 2017 as previously indicated. “It is floating on the date due to the situation we had to recover,” he says.
Romiti says PT1, the oldest surviving example, will fly first “in a matter of weeks” while PT3 “is likely to be later” because some pre-flight testing still needs to be performed, albeit that a proportion of ground tests have already been carried out.
The pair will later swap locations, with PT1 due to head to Italy “around September or October”, while its sister ship travels the other way to prepare for winter icing tests. They will be augmented by fourth AW609 which will arrive in “mid-2017”.
Leonardo was waiting for the findings of an accident investigation by Italy’s ANSV agency to be released prior to resuming flight. And the situation was further complicated by the early May impounding of PT3 by a magistrate from Vercelli probing the accident.
An interim report published by the ANSV on 23 June appeared to lay the blame for the crash on a poor understanding of the tiltrotor’s handling qualities during high-speed flight and flawed control logic in the flight computers.
But following its publication, the impounded test vehicle was released.
However, Romiti notes that the crash followed a test “beyond the speed limit of the aircraft, which was asked for by the authorities” as part of a new certification standard, specifically for tiltrotors.
“The predictability at certain conditions was leading to that situation. It was a combination of factors, it was not about a single element failing.”
The accident took place during airplane mode and Leonardo confirms that as soon as the AW609 resumes flying, it will operate in both airplane and helicopter modes.