As with all manufacturers, Leonardo have a continuing development program for each model in their line-up. In the last few years we have seen the AW109S Trekker with skids, the AW139 gross weight increase, the AW189K with its Safran Aneto-1K engine and so on.
Now the Italian-based manufacturer is test flying its first visible development of the AW169 platform – with skids. Seen here is prototype AC4, with both skids and unusual inward-curving stabiliser end-plates, which look to be an unpainted composite structure.
The outboard sponsons which previously held the wheels when they were retracted have naturally been removed. The weight saving – and thus payload increase – of moving from wheels to skids could be as much as 100kg.
The reasons for exploring this option could be many. We note that the size of the AW169 sits in the middle between the larger twin helicopters, which all have wheels, and smaller twins, which mostly have just skids. Without skids, the market for the AW169 may be restricted and the new model may be aimed at industry segments where competitor aircraft are winning more orders, particularly the Airbus H145.
The Bell 429, with a gross weight of nearly 30% less than an AW169, is the only model currently available on the market to offer both skid and wheel options – the latter snappily-named as 429WLG (for “Wheeled Landing Gear”), but that has not shown to be a particular success story. Data from market intelligence firm Parapex Media shows that less than 8% of 429s have been built with this option since the model was first certified in January 2014.
AW169 prototype AC4 has had it’s previous grey and red stripes removed, and is now all-white bar some dark green stripes on the tail
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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