Leonardo has opened a dedicated facility in Pisa for the development and production of its AWHero rotary-winged unmanned air vehicle (UAV), as the manufacturer accelerates work on the programme.
The Italian aerospace group says it completed a first 10min flight in December 2018 with a pre-production variant of the remotely piloted helicopter in Nettuno, near Rome, and that a second pre-production AWHero will start flight tests in the "next few months".
Italian military certification of the UAV is scheduled for the end of 2019.
In June 2018, an earlier AWHero model was severely damaged during a test flight near Nettuno.
Leonardo says the current pre-production version – a 200kg (440lb)-class aircraft – has a number of new features, including an "optimised airframe and aerodynamics" and modifications to the fuel system, composite tail rotor drive shaft and liquid-cooled rotary engine.
Launched in 2012, the programme was originally operated as a joint venture with Sistemi Dinamici
Leonardo acquired that company in 2016 and foresees potential deployment for the rotary-wing UAV across military and civilian surveillance applications from land and naval bases.
Chief executive Alessandro Profumo states that the new facility – which employs around 60 staff members – "demonstrates Leonardo's way forward" as the investment facilitates "high-end technology and highly skilled resources in order to respond to a fast-growing market.
"Unmanned systems are among the pillars of our growth strategy and we plan to become a market leader in this field," he says.