Ground runs of the third AW609 prototype, AC3, are due to take place in the coming days as Finmeccanica Helicopters looks to get its civil tiltrotor back into the air.
The airframer voluntarily suspended flight-test activities with its remaining example following the crash of its second aircraft in late October 2015 in northern Italy. Two company employees died in the accident.
However, in the interim it continued development work on the third flight-test article, to mitigate against a potentially severe programme delay.
Personnel from Italy’s ANSV agency continue to probe the crash, but were only recently able to retrieve the data stored in the heavily damaged combined flight-data and cockpit-voice recorder.
Daniele Romiti, Finmeccanica Helicopters managing director, says he is “confident that all the causes of the accident will be understood shortly” but declines to elaborate further, citing the active investigation.
Romiti confirms that ground runs of AC3 (N609PA) will take place in early March and a first flight will follow “soon” providing it can gain clearance from regulators.
“Despite the loss of life and the loss of two human beings the programme will be on track,” he says, although he concedes there may be “a few months of delay” due to the grounding. Certification is provisionally scheduled for 2017.
A fourth Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-powered prototype will follow later this year, although Romiti says there are no plans to build a replacement for the example destroyed in October. Instead, the service life of AC1 may be extended beyond its proposed 2016 retirement data, and the aircraft brought to the same standard as AC4, to ensure a three-strong flight-test fleet.
Since the accident, the AW609 has secured a tentative order from the United Arab Emirates for three search-and-rescue-configured examples, with a further three options.