Leonardo’s chief executive has hinted at a potentially deeper relationship with Bell on military tiltrotor applications following a recent pact between the pair.

On 28 February, the two airframers signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to “evaluate co-operation opportunities in the tiltrotor technology domain”.


Source: Leonardo Helicopters

AW609 is closing in on certification

Roberto Cingolani, Leonardo chief executive, sees the agreement as “promising” and says it is “mandatory” that the two “big guys” in tiltrotor technology investigate potential areas of collaboration to “drive synergies at industrial level”.

He says the recent MoU will see the pair “explore, on one hand, technical synergies and eventually even more”.

Cingolani says the technology is “being discussed first” to ascertain its suitability for the market “and then we’ll see whether something happens”.

Bell has long experience with military tiltrotors, developing, alongside Boeing, the V-22 Osprey, and more recently having seen its V-280 Valor selected by the US Army for the service’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft programme.

Leonardo, meanwhile, is nearing certification for the AW609 – a programme in which Bell was previously involved – largely for civil applications but with obvious military potential.

“So clearly exploring synergies at industrial level in the future is mandatory because these are the two top guys in the world and they are in different continents,” he said during a 12 March event in Rome to present Leonardo’s new five-year industrial plan.

He says the MoU “outlines the perimeter for a potential wide-ranging co-operation on tiltrotor technology”.

“This could be joint advocacy of technology for future programmes but also more like industrial co-operation across the entire value chain.

“This is very promising because at the end of the day we now have a competitive advantage that comes from the investment made over the last few years,” says Cingolani.

A first step will be to submit a joint tiltrotor-based bid for concept study work on NATO’s Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability programme.

Leonardo had been expected to partner with Airbus Helicopters for the tender to offer a joint European solution to an initiative driven by six European NATO members.

Meanwhile, Leonardo and Airbus continue to collaborate on separate European Defence Fund-backed effort, the EU Next Generation Rotorcraft Technologies (ENGRT) project.

That sees the pair leading a large consortium of companies, drawn from eight nations, to identify and mature the technologies needed for a future rotorcraft.

However, Cingolani sees the two approaches as “perfectly compatible” and views the NATO and ENGRT requirements as requiring different solutions.

The platform contemplated by ENGRT is, he says, “just a conventional rotorcraft” – essentially a successor to the NH Industries NH90 – noting that European operators are “not considering machines that have to fly at 500km/h”.

Despite Bell’s potential involvement, he argues that the fact that Italy-based Leonardo is progressing tiltrotor products means “a European country holds top-notch technology”.