PAST & PRESENT
AgustaWestland makes its mark with technology and innovation
Count Giovanni Agusta's efforts are paying off with helo, tiltrotor and V/STOL machines for today and the future.
By Grant McLaren
(Top) AgustaWestland AW609 tiltrotor will offer 750-nm range and speeds up to 275 kts when civilian certification is achieved in mid-2016. (B) Flown for the 1st time in Dec 2011, the AW189 is an 8-metric-ton class twin-engine helicopter designed for long-range offshore transport and SAR missions. First deliveries are expected in early 2014.
It was just 4 years after the Wright brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk NC that Count Giovanni Agusta built his first airplane. Later, in 1923, the Count founded Costruzioni Aeronautiche Agusta (Agusta Aviation) in northern Italy.
Over the years Agusta Aviation built helicopters under license, first for Bell and later Sikorsky, while also designing and building its own uniquely productive early generation helicopters.
Designed in the late 1960s, with first flight 1971, the good-looking, high-performance Agusta A109 was undoubtedly one of the company's biggest successes. A commercial and military light twin turbine helicopter the A109 is still in production more than 40 years later.
Today, commercial products from AgustaWestland (a wholly owned subsidiary of Finmeccanica of Italy) range from top-of-the-line single-turbine AW119Ke—an evolution of the A119 Koala—to the intermediate and versatile AW139 and 3-engine 34,392-lb-MTOW AW101 medium-lift civilian/military helicopter (a competitor to Sikorsky S92).
AgustaWestland was created by the merging of 2 helicopter companies with long, rich histories dating back to formative early-20th-century days of aviation manufacturing. Both Agusta and Westland became involved in helicopter manufacturing in the 1950s and shared similar pedigrees.
The Anglo-Italian partnership first joined forces in the 1960s when Westland started licensed production of the Agusta Bell 47G (also known as the Sioux). Twenty years later the 2 companies collaborated on development and production of the multirole AW101 powered by 3 (either GE CT7-8 or Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322) engines.
In 2001 a 50:50 joint venture was created to form AgustaWestland. Then, in Dec 2004, Finmeccanica took 100% ownership of AgustaWestland.
In 1998 Agusta formed a joint venture with Bell Helicopter Textron to create Bell/Agusta Aerospace Co. The aim was to develop the Bell/Agusta AB139 and Bell/Agusta BA609 tiltrotor. Bell later withdrew from the AB139 project. In Nov 2011 AgustaWestland also took ownership of the 609 program and rebranded the tiltrotor as the AW609.
Count Giovanni Agusta's son, Count Domenico Agusta, oversaw the firm's move to rotary-wing production in the early 1950s.
What sets Agusta helicopters apart in the VTOL market is not just attractive, functional Italian styling but overall performance, reliability and efficiency of its VTOL lineup. The A109 has always been a design that's secured great loyalty throughout the worldwide marketplace.
The A109, and its various incarnations, is a much loved and admired corporate helicopter that can be found in service throughout the 4 corners of the world. In southern Malaysia, His Majesty the Sultan of Johor operated, and personally flew, a pair of A109 Power helicopters from the royal heliplex at Istana Bukit Serene (see Pro Pilot Sep 1990, pp 100–102) and these, he recalls, were 2 of his most cherished possessions.
The metallic blue A109 Power duet improved royal transport options within the country (doing away with need for cumbersome ground motorcades) and were handy in visiting the royal crocodile lake and 30-plus "transit palaces" across the State of Johor.
Over in the UAE guests checking into the 7-star Burj al-Arab hotel enjoy the option of 15-min transfers between DXB (Dubai, UAE) and the hotel's rooftop helipad aboard sleek AW109 Powers of Heli Dubai.
AgustaWestland product line reflects some of the heritage of its legacy companies and cooperative agreements.
At YVR (Vancouver BC, Canada) a pair of teal-green AW139s operated by London Air Services (LAS) routinely shuttle 120 passengers a day (each way) between Vancouver and a remote resort up the rugged coast. "We looked at all the options but we preferred the performance and technology of the 15-place AW139 to support a 24-hr IFR operation," says LAS Pres Wynne Powell.
Earlier this year the Japan National Police Agency ordered 2 GrandNew law enforcement helicopters as part of a fleet modernization plan. This brings the number of AgustaWestland light twins in the Japanese law enforcement market to 25.
A spirit of innovation in terms of product, marketing and services remains strong at AgustaWestland.
The London Olympics will open this summer with an AW139 providing close-in support to inaugural ceremonies. In Apr 2012 it was announced that fashion design house Karl Lagerfeld will partner in creating VIP interiors for AgustaWestland helicopters, starting with an AW139 project.
Today, AgustaWestland employs more than 550 people in the US, mainly at the company's PNE (Northeast Philadelphia PA) facility. The PNE operation assembles both the AW119Ke and AW139 while completing GrandNew and AW109 Power helicopters.
AgustaWestland's US training academy provides integrated simulation and initial, conversion and recurrent training solutions for pilots and maintenance professionals.