AgustaWestland will shortly begin initial ground trials of its third AW609 prototype as it looks to press ahead with the programme despite an ongoing investigation into a fatal crash involving an earlier flight-test example.
Depending on their outcome, the tests could pave the way to a return to flight for the civil tiltrotor as early as the first quarter of 2016.
The Anglo-Italian airframer voluntarily suspended flight activities with its one remaining aircraft following the 30 October crash in Italy of its second prototype (N609AG) in which two test pilots were killed.
However, the company has so far maintained its commitment to the civil tiltrotor, including continuing the assembly of aircraft PT3, which is described as “almost ready” with ground tests “expected to start soon”.
The initial AW609 flight-test aircraft (N609TR) remains on the ground as a “precautionary measure”, although AgustaWestland maintains that it will be returned to flight status as the programme requires.
Italian air accident investigation agency ANSV is continuing its probe into the October accident, which took place near Vercelli in northern Italy. It is unable to offer a timeline for the release of its initial report.
Certification of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-powered AW609 was due in 2017 with customer deliveries to start the following year. AgustaWestland has not yet revised that timetable.
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.