Manufacturer AgustaWestland has disclosed that the AW609 prototype that crashed in Northern Italy had a flight plan that included tests at high speed. AgustaWestland Photo
The AgustaWestland AW609 prototype that crashed in Northern Italy on Oct. 30, killing test pilots Herb Moran and Pietro Venanzi, was undertaking a flight plan that included tests at high speed, the manufacturer has confirmed. In announcing further details about the fatal accident, AgustaWestland said the tests on the flight plan were to demonstrate certain capabilities as agreed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — and had already been successfully performed in previous flights.
The aircraft involved in the accident was prototype number two, registration N609AG. It had been assembled in Italy and performed its first flight on Nov. 9, 2006. It had accumulated 567 flight hours since then, and was due to complete its test flying program at the end of 2016.
AgustaWestland said that the aircraft proved fully serviceable during its pre-flight tests on the morning of the crash — and added that these tests were completed shortly ahead of takeoff and were performed in full compliance with the inspection plan authorized by the relevant aviation and certification authorities. The aircraft departed from the manufacturer’s headquarters in Cascina Costa di Samarate (Varese), Italy, at 10:15 a.m. local time.
Test pilots Pietro Venanzi and Herb Moran died when the AW609 prototype crashed in Northern Italy on Oct. 30. AgustaWestland Photo
At 10:42 a.m. local time, 27 minutes after takeoff, the aircraft’s real-time telemetry signal was lost with no further contact. Its wreckage was subsequently found near Santhia (close to Vercelli), approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Cascina Costa.
The manufacturer said it was supporting a full and transparent investigation into the crash, which is being led by the Italian National Agency for the Safety of Flight (ANSV), but said formulating any theory on the possible causes of the accident was “absolutely premature” while the investigation continues. As the aircraft was registered in the United States and was operating under FAA regulations, both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are involved in the investigation. Other investigating authorities include the Prosecutor’s Office of Vercelli (Italy), the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
With regards to the AW609 program’s future, AgustaWestland said it was “fully committed to mitigating any delay this tragic accident, and the subsequent investigation, might have” on the program. The third AW609 prototype is currently being assembled in Italy and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Pilot details released
Venanzi had worked as an experimental test pilot with AgustaWestland for the last 15 years, and had returned to Italy following time spent in support of the AW609 program in Texas. He also played a significant role in the testing and development of the AW139.
His achievements in flight testing were recognized in 2014, when, along with fellow AW609 pilots Dan Wells and Paul Edwards, he was awarded with the Iven C. Kincheloe Award for an outstanding professional accomplishments in the conduct of flight-testing.
Prior to joining AgustaWestland, Venanzi was the Aide de Campe for the Chief of Joint Military Staff of the Italian Armed Forces, and had a six-year career at the Italian Official Test Centre in Pratica di Mare, Italy. While there, he worked on several test programs in both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. He was also a display pilot at many prestigious air shows including the Royal International Air Tattoo, where he won the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy for flying the overall best air display.
Moran was an experimental test pilot with over 27 years of military and commercial aviation experience, and had been dedicated to flight-testing of the commercial TilRrotor for over 10 years. He began his work on the Bell/Agusta BA609 in 2005 as part of the TiltRotor development team in both Texas and Italy.
Prior to joining Bell, and then subsequently, AgustaWestland, Moran had a storied career in the U.S. Marine Corps, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He served in operational and instructor tours in the Bell UH-1 Iroquois and Bell AH-1 Cobra, and was presented with the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Valor as a result of his overseas deployment in support of Desert Storm. His military service culminated with duties as Platform Coordinator for the UH-1N Test Team and then Operations Officer at the Naval Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Squadron. Moran was instrumental in the development and flight-testing of a number of military test projects and helicopter platform upgrades during his military career.
Moran flew 35 different military and commercial aircraft variants across rotary-wing, TiltRotor, jet and turboprop platforms, and maintained both FAA and European Aviation Safety Agency pilot certifications. Prior to his work on the BA and AW609, he was Bell Helicopter’s lead pilot of a five-aircraft development team of the UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper. In 2002, his accomplishments were recognized industry-wide when the Society for Experimental Test Pilots selected him as the recipient of the Iven C Kincheloe Test Pilot of the Year award.
“Our thoughts are with their families and friends,” said Daniele Romiti, CEO of AgustaWestland, “Pietro and Herb were experienced pilots with long and successful test flying careers who will be remembered for their exceptional personalities, passion and skills,” he said. “Their significant contribution to the AW609 programme and other rotorcraft programmes will be remembered by their colleagues at AgustaWestland and across the industry worldwide.”