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Friday, February 1, 2013

AW189 Prototype Heads to Alaska After Texas Demo as Part of U.S. Stops During Global Flight Test Campaign

By Andrew Parker, Editor-in-Chief

AgustaWestland conducted a flight demonstration of the U.S.-based AW189 prototype (P2) on December 6 in Arlington, Texas before heading to Alaska for cold weather trials through spring 2013, at which point it will fly back to Italy to rejoin the other four testbed helicopters in the fleet (P1 and P3-P5). Photos by Randy Jones

AgustaWestland is in the midst U.S. flight tests of the AW189 that will continue through spring 2013. The testbed—one of five AW189 prototypes—made stops in Arizona and Texas before flying to Alaska for cold weather trials as part of a nine-month effort. The manufacturer provided an aerial demonstration of the AW189 on December 6 at its facility at Arlington Municipal Airport (GKY), as well as an update on the AW609, formerly the BA609 before AgustaWestland purchased Bell Helicopter’s share in the tiltrotor design in November 2011. 

AW189 fly-by.

According to AgustaWestland, one of the five AW189 prototypes began the U.S. trials in July 2012, conducting performance checks, hot and high testing, and cold weather operations. Other tests include handling qualities, hover performance and Cat A/B takeoff and landing. The manufacturer has carried out more than 160 flight hours in the U.S. through December 2012. The five prototypes have amassed a total of more than 800 flight hours, with certification expected in second quarter 2013.

Center panel on the AW189 P2 prototype.
Mike Bucari, market analyst based at AgustaWestland’s Philadelphia location, explained that prototypes P1, P3 and P5 are based in Italy, while P2 is being used in the U.S. and P4 is located in the UK. He noted the “significant investment” that AgustaWestland is making with five prototypes, launching the AW189 in June 2011 as part of a family of helicopters—the relatives being the AW139 and AW169—with common avionics, internal and external structure, maintenance and components/parts, among other shared resources. 

“The reason I say there’s a common aspect among the three is the way the aircraft is laid out, the way the avionics are laid out, the displays on the MFD and the PFD—they’re going to be pretty much the same. So that it’s an easy of transition in a multi-ship fleet for a pilot to go from one aircraft to another,” Bucari said. He also mentioned a proprietary software design.

AW189 P2 testbed on the tarmac at Arlington Municipal Airport (GKY) during a Dec. 6 demo flight.
“No longer are we on the heels of a Honeywell or a Chelton for any software updates that need to be done,” he said. “Now we have full control of the process, now we have the capability of doing that all in-house. It really allows a large amount of flexibility.”

Bucari went on to explain the “family approach” to the design of the AW139, AW169 and AW189, saying “they’re kind of like brothers of one another—not derivatives of one another, but brothers. They share a common family background—they look the same, fly the same, talk the same, but they’re a completely different aircraft.”

Richard Luck, head of AW609 marketing, explained that AgustaWestland has increased the flying frequency of the test program over the past 11 months, compiling more than 750 hours, or around 10 percent of the total program. AgustaWestland became the sole owner of the BA609 in November 2011, with the type certificate transferred over in February 2012. FAA certification for the AW609 is projected in 2016.

AW189 prototype P4, which is based in the UK. Photo courtesy of AgustaWestland
Recent program advancements include hiring more staff on a 250-person integrated development team; completion of test facilities in Arlington, Texas and Cascina Costa, Italy; and opening a flight simulator facility in Arlington and a software integration center in Cascina Costa. AgustaWestland has also sent product specifications to suppliers of major AW609 systems, such as BAE, Pratt & Whitney and Rockwell Collins.

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