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Leonardo Helicopters and AAL USA anticipate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification of the AW009 helicopter in September of this year, and approval for key avionics and engine upgrades in the second quarter of 2017, the companies said at the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) Expo 2016 in July.
Launched at HAI Heli-Expo 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky, earlier this year, the AW009 made another public appearance at the ALEA Expo in Savannah, Georgia, where Leonardo touted its appeal for law enforcement operators. The light, single-engine helicopter is a commercial evolution of the PZL SW-4, which is produced by Leonardo’s Polish subsidiary PZL-Świdnik and operated by the Polish Armed Forces as a trainer. The aircraft received type certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in 2007, but has had limited penetration into the civilian market.
To launch the model in the United States, Leonardo teamed with Huntsville, Alabama-based AAL USA, which holds FAA Organization Designation Authorization. Once the FAA validates EASA’s type certification of the model, Leonardo and AAL USA will pursue upgrades to the aircraft as supplemental type certificates (STCs).
One of those upgrades is replacement of the aircraft’s current Rolls-Royce M250-C20R (SP) engine with a more powerful M250-C30P model, which is expected to significantly improve the aircraft’s hot-and-high performance. Currently the model has hover-in-ground-effect and hover-out-of-ground-effective ceilings of 4,232 and 2,690 feet, respectively, but the C30 is expected to boost those figures to over 10,000 and 7,300 feet. According to Leonardo Helicopters manager of business development Michael Bucari, STC approval for the C30 engine installation is expected early in the second quarter of 2017.
That should be closely followed by STC approval for installation of modern avionics from Genesys Aerosystems. Leonardo and AAL are also looking at incorporating an engine parameter display similar to the Airbus Helicopters First Limit Indicator or the Bell Helicopter Power Situation Indicator, according to AAL USA director of commercial programs Brett Harlow. He added, “We feel that we’re going to gain some useful [load] as well when we get all the steam gauges out.”
The aircraft already incorporates some key upgrades over the original SW-4. These include the addition of a redundant hydraulic accumulator in the main gearbox compartment, which provides up to 20 minutes of boosted control following a hydraulic pressure loss in the primary accumulator supply chain. Leonardo also installed a mast vibration absorber with single arm local vibration absorbers, and modified the installation of the main gearbox, to reduce vibration and improve occupant comfort. These improvements have already been certified by EASA.
Additionally, Leonardo and AAL are working with vendors to develop an airborne law enforcement mission equipment package for the AW009, which will likely include a FLIR Systems Star SAFIRE 380-HDc imaging system with minimum 15-inch display; a Spectrolab SX-16 Nightsun searchlight; a Power Sonix dual-horn public address system; a Technisonic Industries TDFM-9000 radio; a Vislink downlink system; and a Churchill Navigation moving map system. Aircraft will be completed at the AAL USA facility, and “we’ll be able to market this as a turnkey package ready to go,” said Harlow.
Leonardo Helicopters sees the AW009 as a particularly good fit for the airborne law enforcement market, and Bucari indicated that a law enforcement operator would likely be the aircraft’s North American launch customer. The aircraft has a maximum gross weight of 3,968 pounds (1,800 kilograms) and a useful load of 1,652 lbs. (750 kg), which is around 130 lbs. (59 kg) greater than the useful load of the competing MD Helicopters MD 500E. While the AW009 is a few feet longer than the MD 500E, its footprint is smaller than that of other short light singles, including the Airbus Helicopters H120 and the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X. And, it offers around 20 cubic feet more cockpit and cabin volume than the MD 500E, with easy access for passengers through two rear sliding doors, and a generous 30-cubic-foot baggage compartment.
“It’s got a lot of versatility for an aircraft of this size and weight,” said Bucari, noting that, in addition to airborne law enforcement, the aircraft should be appealing for sightseeing, personal transportation, and light utility operations. The AW009 has a cargo sling rated to 1,433 lbs. (650 kg) and will be able to carry a 120-U.S. gallon (450-liter) Bambi Bucket for firefighting.
Other selling points of the aircraft include five crashworthy seats, and a crash-resistant fuel system. The estimated base price of the aircraft is US$1.3 million, with first deliveries expected in summer 2017.