It's been a long road for the AgustaWestland AW609. Since the resumption of flight testing in April last year following a fatal air crash in 2015 that claimed the lives of two test pilots, the third tiltrotor prototype carried out several weeks of ground testing, which were followed by flight trials that involved full testing of avionics and all the aircraft's systems. These were conducted at the company's facilities in Italy, but the aircraft has now been shipped to the United States, where icing trials are set to take place through the winter.
Despite design similarities to the V-22 Osprey and sharing the ability to take off and land vertically and transition to flying like a fixed-wing aircraft thanks to its rotating nacelles, the AW609 is a very different aircraft aimed at very different markets. Where the Osprey is purely a military aircraft, the smaller AW609 is being targeted more widely, including at corporate, medical, law enforcement, search and rescue, maritime surveillance, and military customers.
In 2002, AgustaWestland was aiming to achieve type certification for the aircraft in 2007. However numerous delays, and the FAA stating in 2012 that the AW609 would need to meet certification requirements for both helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft, means that certification is still to be awarded. But the company now says the aircraft is on track to receive FAA certification in 2018.
Having already performed basic hovering and maneuvering in initial flight tests, as well as a hover landing, plans are in place for flights up to 4,000 ft (1,220 m) with short takeoff and landing (STOL) in the not-too-distant future. Icing trials will also be conducted in Marquette, Michigan, through the winter.
The fourth AW609 prototype is on its way to completion in AgustaWestland's Philadelphia facility, where production AW609's are set to be produced. The first such production build AW609 is scheduled to roll off the line in 2018.