As is the case with Eurocopter’s X3, the X2 probably won’t require additional licensing to fly. In fact, during development work on the X2 technology demonstrator, test pilots who were previously familiar only with conventional helicopters were able to transition to flying the X2 with about 15 minutes of practice in the simulator, Sikorsky claims.
A 100-Passenger Rotorcraft?
AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi has said he foresees a day when very large tiltrotor-based aircraft could fly as many as 50 to 100 passengers from a downtown city vertiport to another city a few hundred miles away at ticket costs comparable to what airlines charge for the same routes, but without the extra time and hassle of driving to an airport outside a city center. In fact, Orsi said he sees a day when congestion at major airports would make such a travel concept a necessity.
AgustaWestland is currently working on the development of the AW609. No doubt you’ve heard and read a lot about this product, which drew on experience gained from the experimental Bell XV-15 tiltrotor designed by Bell. After partner Boeing pulled out of the project in 1998, Agusta came on board and the machine was rechristened the Bell/Agusta BA609. Development continued through the merger of Agusta and Westland Helicopters in 2000 and beyond, until Bell sought to exit the program last year citing high costs.
Solely in charge of the program, AgustaWestland announced a name change for the aircraft to the AW609 at the Paris Air Show last year and said it would buy out Bell Helicopter’s investment in the program, which it finally did last November. AgustaWestland has since established a subsidiary at a site in Arlington, Texas, to manage FAA certification and flight-testing of the first AW609 prototype.
A second AW609 prototype is continuing testing in Cascina Costa di Samarate, Italy, while a third is being assembled and will be devoted to icing certification testing. A planned fourth prototype will be used for the development and integration of new avionics and mission avionics.
AgustaWestland says the first two prototypes have surpassed 650 flight hours and have proved the aircraft’s ability to fly at altitudes of up to 25,000 feet and cruise at speeds of up to 275 knots at the aircraft’s maximum takeoff weight of 16,800 pounds, figures made possible by the fact that the AW609 in forward flight doesn’t abide by the rules that limit helicopter cruise speed.
AgustaWestland is aiming to gain FAA certification for the AW609 later this decade. The company says it has received orders for around 70 aircraft from buyers seeking to fulfill a range of commercial and government roles. AgustaWestland says the AW609’s capabilities make it ideal for applications such as emergency medical services, search and rescue, transport to deepwater oil and gas facilities, and transporting VIPs and heads of state to and from congested urban areas inaccessible to fixed wing aircraft.
Of course, we have to temper our enthusiasm for future high-speed rotorcraft by noting that nobody has yet advanced a civil design beyond the testing phase. The joke is that the V-22 was the first aircraft in history to enter a museum before it went into production. What’s exciting is that designers appear to have unlocked the aerodynamic puzzles that will finally herald an era of rotorcraft that can excel in a variety of flight regimes, and especially at speeds above 200 knots.
We’re looking forward to the day we get to fly them all.