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Leonardo flies first production standard AW609 tiltrotor

The maiden flight for a production standard AW609 tiltrotor took place out of Leonardo's Philadelphia production facility on 13 October. (Leonardo)

Leonardo has flown a production standard AW609 tiltrotor for the first time, the company announced on 19 November.

The milestone took place on 13 October at the company's Philadelphia production facility in the US, and saw aircraft AC5 perform an initial in-flight evaluation of its systems and general handling.

As noted by Leonardo, AC5 will be retained by Leonardo contributing to customer demonstrations, mission capability evaluation and expansion, and supporting the manufacturer and the operators in the transition from the developmental to the operational phase once on the market.

AC5 now joins one US- and two Italian-based prototype AW609 aircraft that are all involved in the final stages of testing activities ahead of US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification. Production aircraft for three customers are on the final assembly line at various stages of construction in Philadelphia. Leonardo said customers signed up to date comprise Bristow Group and “an undisclosed long-established European operator of Leonardo's helicopters”, while no details were provided for the third undisclosed customer.

In terms of military customers, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2015 for three aircraft to be used by the country's Joint Aviation Command (JAC) for search-and-rescue (SAR) duties. The UAE platforms were scheduled to be delivered by 2019, but to date no contract has been signed (or at least announced).

An Italian Army white paper from 2015 included a tiltrotor aircraft for rapid troop-transport and medical evacuation duties for which the AW609 could be a candidate (the only other option being the much larger and more expensive Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey), but again there has been no contract signed.

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