Last week, HeliHub.com had access to the key executives of the AW609 program. This is one of three updates we are presenting this week to our readers.
The road ahead for the AW609 is not a simple one. Developing the world’s first civil certified tilt-rotor is not the real challenge, yes, really. The biggest challenge ahead for AgustaWestland is actually the authorities, both from a certification and pilot training point of view.
Certification is being worked on with the FAA, but it needs the rulebook rewritten. AgustaWestland AW609 program manager Clive Scott emphasised to HeliHub.com that “it isn’t a turboprop, and it isn’t a helicopter”. OK, so the FAA know about fixed wing turboprops, and they know about helicopters and it isn’t either of these. So what is it in certification terms? Herein lies the $64,000 question. AgustaWestland have a first-of-a-kind civil aircraft type, and the rulebook needs to be written for civilian tilt-rotor certification. Certainly some will come from the existing helicopter documentation, and some from the fixed-wing equivalents, but the transition phase as the aircraft moves from hover to level flight is a computer-controlled period of time (10-12 seconds) and likely to be the area giving the FAA the most challenges. AgustaWestland is also working with ICAO and EASA as well on this, but they are certainly targetting FAA certification first, and all the current/future prototypes are all on FAA “N” registrations.
Running in parallel with the need to write a new certification rulebook is the need to work out how to train pilots for the AW609. Should you start with a helicopter pilot and teach the rules of transition and turboprop speed/altitude flight, or do you start with a turboprop pilot and teach the rules of transition and hovering? On top of that, how many pilots will be interested in going through the machinations and costs of learning how to fly a first-of-its-kind civil aircraft type – skills which cannot be transferred onto any other tiltrotor type (because none exist)? How many flying hours would be available to such pilots in the first few years after certification? Or do you hope that by the time certification is near, some ex-USMC V-22 pilots will be seeking the civilian lifestyle and translate their skills across?
We expect a similar situation for the certification (less so for training) with other new designs including Eurocopter’s X3 hybrid. The penalties of innovation!
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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