Following on from the completion of flight envelope expansion trials in December 2013, AgustaWestland gave the first customer demonstration flights of the AW609 tiltrotor aircraft in February. This was followed by autorotation trials, which the company has announced were successfully completed earlier this month.
Starting off in 1996 as the Bell/Boeing-developed Bell XV-15, the AW609 tiltrotor aircraft combines the benefits of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. AgustaWestland, which took full ownership of the program (and renamed the aircraft the AW609) in 2011, has now announced that autorotation trials carried out between the end of March and early April were completed successfully.
Autorotation refers to the rotors of a helicopter turning in response to air moving up through the rotor as the aircraft descends, rather than being driven by an engine, thereby allowing the aircraft to land safely in the event of a complete engine failure. The autorotation trials, in which the aircraft clocked up 10 dedicated flight hours, saw the AW609 complete over 70 power-off conversions from airplane mode to helicopter mode.
AgustaWestland says the test flights, which were flown from an Arlington, Texas, facility and monitored by the FAA, covered the full wind-milling and autorotation envelopes, with aircraft performance exceeding characteristics seen in the engineering simulator. A full flight simulator that will allow commercial pilots to be trained is also planned.
AgustaWestland is aiming to gain FAA certification for the AW609 in 2017 and says it is acquiring new equipment and tooling to ensure that existing orders will be fulfilled immediately following said certification.