Leonardo Helicopters has detailed plans to test and fly a prototype of a second-generation civil tiltrotor by 2023 as a successor to the developmental AgustaWestland AW609. However, this marks a two-year delay over its most recent timeline for the project.
The company has long pursued a larger and more efficient design than the AW609, which the Italian manufacturer inherited from a defunct collaboration with Bell Helicopter.
But a steady drip of schedule delays for the AW609, which is now expected to be certificated two years late in 2018, appears to have had a knock-on effect on the next-generation programme. As recently as 2015, Leonardo had expected to start flying a prototype of its Next Generation Civil Tiltrotor, part funded by the EU's Clean Sky 2 effort, in 2021.
Leonardo has planned a deliberate approach to first flight of the new prototype in six years, says Daniele Romiti, speaking to journalists on 6 March at the Heli-Expo convention.
Several new technologies, including new rotor blades, wings and ailerons, will first be tested using subscale articles on an AW609 testbed, Romiti says. Leonardo also plans to replace the full engine tilting of the AW609 with simply tilting the gearbox and rotor blades, he adds.
“It’s applying the new solutions that we are seeing for the next-generation tiltrotor into the AW609 [platform],” Romiti says, “and then eventually a prototype could be flying soon after.”
A new wing optimised for hover and cruise modes should help improve efficiency by 10-15%, Romiti adds.
Separately, Leonardo’s engineers have launched a long-term programme to develop an electric-powered tail-rotor, but Romiti declines to speculate on the timing for qualifying a production version.
“I cannot bet on a date because it could be quite ambitious,” he says.
Leonardo is still working to significantly improve the power-to-weight ratio of the electric tail rotor, which remains inadequate for commercial operations, Romiti says. But the potential benefits make the technology attractive in the long-term.
“It removes a lot of complexity,” Romiti says. “It removes the tail driveshaft and the tail gearbox as well.”