AW-609: When Finmeccanica cares for you ...


When attending an airplane presentation of an airplane presented by an Italian pilot, whether it is an Eurofighter or a wicker bathtub, the feeling is always the same: to have the most eye-catching eye sensational flying machine ever built.

This thanks to the extraordinary professionalism and experience combined with the total mastery of the medium and the laws of physics of these extraordinary professionals who, during demonstrations, sometimes operate according to the rule of "making simple things difficult, making difficult things spectacular, concluding the presentation in an emotional way avoiding that someone starts to raise doubts about something ".

If the flying machine in question is built by a company that is in all respects one of the flagship jewels of our engineering and industrial capacity (and by Italians and tax payers we all hope that Italian remains for centuries to come!), To emotions caused by the evolutions in flight, we add that pride that we Italians can show off only when the national football team plays or Ferrari races at Monza.

If our eyes see, then, the Finmeccanica-AgustaWestland AW-609 convertiplane, then we really feel Leonardo da Vinci's heirs and we can not share the words (and certainly at least a "tweet") of our Prime Minister at 100%, that of Leonardo da Vinci shares the territorial origin.

The writer, as a kid, was one of the most fervent enthusiasts of the convertible, because of the sense of total domination of heaven, given the initial idea of ​​having a means that combines all the helicopter's advantages with some of his own airplane.

And as a kid I dreamed of the elegant silhouette of the Bell XV15 designed in 1971 (bottom right), which in turn originates from the 3 Bell XV1951 (top right).

The 6 March 2003 the boy had 43 years, a commercial pilot license in his pocket and a military aviation flight as a pilot officer.

By pure chance, during a tourist flight at the controls of another wonderful Finmeccanica product, Alenia Aermacchi SF 260 met the AW-609 "Tilt Rotor" in flight on Lake Maggiore during its very first flight. he followed him at a proper distance for about ten minutes. It was a great emotion to think back to those thoughts of a boy in seeing him there, a dream materialized before his eyes!  

But the aeronautical competence gained could not give rise to a thousand technical considerations on the difficulty of making such a flying machine and the practical operational implications of such an architecture. With the knowledge gained by a professional pilot, infantile enthusiasm ended up with the nostalgic and romantic consideration of a wonderful idea, but problematic to the extent that it is destined to remain a mere feasibility exercise.

Solve the problem of ensuring that you can get to the maximum take-off weight (as required by international regulatory requirements) or allow obstacle-free take-off trains, or allow you to transition from helicopter to airplane flight (and above all vice versa), in the case of an engine failure and in various environmental and climatic conditions, are companies of unimaginable complexity and not without risk to the safety of experimental testers.

In that first flight, the AW-609 was only used in "helicopter mode" and only many years after the company was able to complete the flight envelope, ie to carry out all flight tests in both configurations, including those of autorotation (landing in condition of engine failure such that it does not allow propulsion) in its American headquarters.

So many years of design, development and tuning (which largely repeat the previous experimentation of the American Bell Bells of the XV series), in addition to all the resources employed, they will not be able to fall back on the final purchase cost.

To give an idea of ​​what this might mean, just remember that the development of the Bell (now Boeing) V22 "Osprey" (the only convertiplane that has reached today operational use) lasted 25 years, with costs more than double compared to the already pharaonic initial estimates and however such as to push the US Government (it is a project intended exclusively for military purposes, therefore financed by the Government) to interrupt development.

Of course, the Boeing Vertol V22 “Osprey” project was then also resumed and today it is a reality (photo below) but it must be said that perhaps the restart of the program was stimulated by enormous pressure from certain industrial lobbies. And I want to remember the memory of those thirty men who left their lives for this project!

But that was a project for military use, and if strategic needs so require, it is done ...

We agree with Finmeccanica-AgustaWestland that the strength of the AW-609 project is versatility: it allows the aircraft to take off and land like a helicopter and fly at an altitude of about 8.000 meters with a cruise speed and a radius of double action compared to those of a helicopter.

But two questions arise spontaneous:

1) at what cost?

2) for what use?

Pending specific official responses to these questions, it is almost certain that the cost of buying, which is still fairly indefinite, is unlikely to be both in comparison with the helicopter and that of the airplane. At least 1: 2, that is, 1 "Tilt Rotor" can buy at least 2 "executive" helicopters or 2 jet "executives". Or even more wisely, at least 1 helicopter and 1 jet executive (and so can re-rent to other operators what is not being used, while in the meantime offer two specific products at the service of every type of client, recovering a few thousand € per hour flight).

And after the purchase there are the operating costs, which are likely to be even more unfavorable: fuel consumption is the most obvious operating cost, but not to be neglected the cost of hangaraggio and handling, given the external dimensions decidedly important and above all maintenance costs.

Rather small, however, the interior dimensions of the passenger compartment, at least as seen in a scale model 1: 1 now displayed in a well-known Italian aeronautical museum, and the measures published by Finmeccanica-AgustaWestland.

And here comes a third question: the contortions will be limited to the accessibility of the pilots (who to get to their seat must perform a sort of obstacle course with a lot of check-list, as if they were to pass in the middle of a minefield)?

The AW-609 "Tilt Rotor" can not take the role of military competitor of the Bell-Boeing Vertol V22 "Osprey" for issues inherent in its own construction: size, access and load capacity, overall dimensions (wing, long blade fuselage of the rotors, all non-reclining).

If a military convertiplane such as the V22 "Osprey" were used, it could have been built on license in Italy in the same Vergiate factory where the AW-609 was presented to the Prime Minister, as was the case for CH-helicopters 47, which absolutly fulfill the role of the "Osprey" V1973 from the 22 for national needs in Italy and in international missions with Italian participation.

Certain other military uses such as search and rescue, "hook" jobs, embarked use are not feasible with the "Tilt Rotor".

In this regard, then to the health evacuation, mentioned in the AW-609 brochure I would like to know how to load a stretcher, in addition to the doctor and the voluminous therapeutic equipment having a fuselage of the internal section available only m 1,47!

In summary, one can say that an attempt at military use of the "Tilt Rotor" would be like trying to carry 2 damigiane wine, or a fridge and dishwasher on a spider "Ferrari".

The other military tasks indicated in the convertiplano brochure (such as road and sea patrol) are already very well carried out by the aircrafts currently in use and with infinitesimal operating costs. Not to mention the constant development of drones and other national aerospace products not attributable to Finmeccanica-AgustaWestland (Piaggio "P.1HH" and "MPA" in the first place, but also Vulcanair "Special Mission A-Viator" and "Special Mission P68 Observer "- photo below, OMA Sud" Skycar MMP ").

What use scenario could the AW-609 have in civil aviation?

The technical and morphological characteristics of the AW-609 make it an aerial vehicle that can find its strengths when compared to the helicopter, while in comparison with the airplane, the compromises adopted to allow its dual use become objectively difficult limits to be overcome: amortization costs, maintenance, storage and handling, interior space and passenger comfort, autonomy.

In my opinion, the only civilian use of the AW-609 could be to shuttle between centers far enough to make the helicopter inconvenient, without adequate commercial airport and connected by low-speed railway lines. But not for a regional airline: the "Tilt Rotor" could be interesting for the managerial needs of some wealthy company that might need to move between one location and another. These could find in the "Tilt Rotor" an interesting "commuter executive", also because this type of company usually does not worry about having to calculate a "break-even-point" in which to see the investment repaid, nor should they make the investment itself able to produce profits.

However, the problem remains of the fuselage definitely claustrophobic, which would even prevent the transport of a carry-on bag in addition to a small suitcase in the hold .. Who knows, finally, even if the passengers in the last row have to access their seats following a check- list, how is it for pilots ?!

And if someone ever had a physiological need during the flight? I do not want to think about how it might end up.

Problems, these, already faced by Learjet, on its early models, and which have forced this prestigious builder to design new ever larger models. A commitment to continuous redesign ... And for the AW-609 experimentation has just ended, after many years.

In summary, the use of the AW-609 as a civil aircraft would be like having a Cessna "Citation Mustang" with all the costs of a CH-47 "Chinhook", having the limitations of both, without having the advantages.

Evidently these considerations should not have scared the 60 customers from all over the world, which from what has been learned from the official press releases will use the aircraft for a wide range of missions.

I hope I have something wrong in my technical analysis of this fascinating vehicle, I really hope it because I like it so much and I do not know what I would do to be able to fly it, but if not, it was wasted a lot of resources of all kinds, useful to develop other "indigenous" aeronautical projects, such as the need for a true heir to the MBM 339 as the initial jet trainer.

And I do not want to go into this argument because I can not remember a similar enthusiasm with Renzi, as demonstrated by a former government minister, who faced another Finmeccanica product (Alenia Aermacchi M311, then M 345) triumphantly announced his purchase in lieu of the Aermacchi MB 339 under the National Acrobat Patrol, from 2017.

In that case, rather than emotional engagement in an impressive presentation in flight (I think that in the thirty-year development of the airplane M345 today there have been few), a slide of a slideshow had to be mutilated, showing characteristic curves seemingly similar M-311 maneuver (with half fuel), with those of the MB-339 (with additional charge from 900kg).

We now wait to see if the same enthusiasm is shown by the millions of Italian taxpayers admirers of the "Frecce Tricolori", in the meantime we pay it to arrive at the Air Force, which for 33 years has willingly done less with the American at the time of a JPATS contest (at the time with the S211).

But these are political considerations that go beyond the technical analysis of the only existing civilian convertiplano, an aerial vehicle that could finally represent the point of arrival of a research started a long time ago.

As an empirical rule (but effective because it is based on a statistical / historical survey on innovative Italian aeronautical projects from post-war to present), if among US customers 60 will also mean that the operational characteristics actually allowed by the AW-609 justify the results of each purchase and operating cost and each dimensional compromise made.

At the conclusion of this analysis, I feel obliged to say that I fear for the AW-609 "Tilt Rotor" a commercial fate not unlike another splendid aeronautical jewel, which from 28 years seeks its place on the market: the Dornier "Seastar" ( photo).

This wonderful amphibian is the only way to be able to be used on commercial seaplane trains. Every summer, at least one company is born (and dies), which thinks that it can offer public passenger and freight services to locations without an airport, water-proof (no matter if sweet, salty or salty).

No one buys the "Seastar" because it costs an unprofitable figure, is not as fast as an airplane of the same price and payload, it is uncomfortable for the passenger and has very high running costs.

The AW 609 "Tilt Rotor" is a different but equally exceptional aircraft. What unites these two aircraft is being affected by the same problems.

Only one government can believe that they can think that they do not have to worry about the costs, but as a taxpayer I would say that it would be a scandal that these amounts of public money would be used for something that is not needed.

The state has already provided us with explanations on the costs of catastrophic substitution in the ranks of the Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi'SF260-AM Military Air Force with the SF 260-ED and its current modernization program.

I want to hope that the enthusiasm shown by the President of the Council does not implicitly imply that it is our nation, perhaps through the various State Operating Bodies (like the P180), the best launching client.

Andrea Troncone

(Note: The analysis was made on the basis of official data in the manufacturer's sites and brochures)

(photo: Finmeccanica / AgustaWestland / US DoD / AM / Web)