A prototype AgustaWestland AW609 TiltRotor crashed this morning, killing both pilots, the company has confirmed. According to local media reports in Italy, the hybrid aircraft was on fire as it crashed in fields near Santhia in northern Italy, near the manufacturer’s headquarters in Cascina Costa, on the outskirts of Milan.
Italian air-accident investigation agency ANSV has reportedly dispatched a team to the crash site.
AgustaWestland released the following statement:
“Finmeccanica-AgustaWestland confirms the loss of one prototype AW609 tiltrotor and the tragic loss of two pilots. The Company’s deepest sympathies are with the families. Finmeccanica-AgustaWestland is working with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of the accident.”
Data from flight tracking website Flightrader24
suggests the aircraft (registration N609AG) took off at 10:33 a.m. and was in the air for 10 minutes.
The accident will prove a major setback to a certification program that had appeared to be making great strides this year, as the aircraft — set to be the first civilian tiltrotor — edged closer to a long-awaited arrival on the market.
It made its debut on static display at Heli-Expo 2015 in Orlando, Fla., in March, as the manufacturer gave an update on its flight test program as well as announcing a new “platform development agreement” with operating giant Bristow.
That progress included engine upgrades, landing gear modifications and optimized flight control techniques that had allowed the flight envelope to expand to 18,000-pound (8,165-kilogram) maximum weight, 293 knots equivalent airspeed, and 30,000 feet. The manufacturer said the test results validated a sizeable increase in useful load that provide the capability to fly 500 nautical miles point-to-point with a full load of nine passengers in two hours.
At that point, the manufacturer had two flying prototypes — one based in Arlington, Texas, and another in Italy — that had logged nearly 1,200 flight hours. Two more prototypes were scheduled to join the program to allow for certification of the aircraft in 2017.
In March, the aircraft’s test pilots reported having completed flights tests including stalls and aeroservoelastic structural tests, as well as autorotation tests, wherein the AW609 simulated a dual engine failure while cruising in airplane mode, and performed an emergency reconversion maneuver to autorotate in helicopter mode. The pair said one-engine inoperative performance was equivalent to helicopter Category A performance.
In September, the AW609 reached another landmark when it set what AgustaWestland claimed was a speed record on a 1000-kilometer “point to point” journey, from the manufacturer’s plant in Yeovil to Cascina Costa in just two hours and 18 minutes.