The AgustaWestland AW109 is a top-of-the-line, lightweight, twin-engine, multi-purpose helicopter used for charter transport, medevac, search-and-rescue, and military roles. It is known for its speed, ease of control, and aesthetic appearance. With the most advanced navigation and situational awareness technology, and the highest safety through sophisticated avionics, it is capable of operating in the most severe conditions. It meets the market demand for a helicopter that combines performance, speed, payload, and operational flexibility while minimizing environmental impact.
The Beginnings of the AgustaWestland AW109
Agusta originally designed the A109 as a single-engine commercial helicopter in the late 1960s. It was redesigned in 1969 as a twin-engine with two Allison 250C14 turboshaft engines. It was the first Italian helicopter to be mass-produced.
The AW109 (known then as the A109) maiden flight was on August 4, 1971, and was followed by two more prototypes. After four more years of testing the first A109 was produced in April 1975 and received Visual Flight Rules (VFR) certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on June 1 of that year. Originally, the A109 was marketed under the name “Hirundo” (Latin for a swallow), but this was changed within a few years.
In 1976, the company began deliveries of A109s to customers. The A109’s greater speed, twin-engine redundancy, and extra seating capacity compared favourably with the Bell 206, which was at the time the market leader. Several modifications and adjustments have been made over time, most notably including new avionics and engine technologies, along with Military versions. In 1981, the A109A Mk2 was produced with a wider cabin. For the A109A Mk.II MAX aeromedical evacuation version, the cabins were extra wide and access doors hinged top and bottom, rather than to one side. In 1993, the A109 K2 was advanced with two Turbomeca Arriel 1K1 engines; this was followed by the A109 Power, which was comparable to the K2 except for the use of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206 engines instead.
AW109 variants have been powered by a variety of turboshaft engines, ranging from the original Allison 250-C14 engines to Turbomeca Arriel 1K1 and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206 engines in later aircraft. In the case of single-engine failure, the AW109 is intended to have a generous power reserve even on a single engine. More sophisticated rotor blade designs have been progressively implemented for the AW109’s main and tail rotors over time, such as using composite materials instead of bonded metal. Improvements have also reduced operating costs and noise.
There have also been significant improvements in safety equipment. These include methods to reduce pilot workload and enable single or dual-pilot control under instrument flight conditions (IFR). Digital autopilot, an auto-coupled instrument landing system, integrated GPS, a moving map display, weather radar, and a traffic alerting system are just a few of the technological upgrades on board. A forced trim system (which can be instantly and selectively activated by the controlling pilot) has also been implemented. All critical systems are deliberately redundant for fail-safe operations; the hydraulic system, hydraulic actuators, and electrical system are all dual-redundant, while the power inverters are triple-redundant.
The Merge of Agusta and Westland
Agusta and Westland Helicopters have been working together in some form for decades. In 1981 the two manufacturers established the European Helicopter Industries joint venture to develop a new medium-size utility helicopter, the EH101. In July 2000 the two manufacturers Augusta and Westland Helicopters merged (who were subsidiaries of Finmeccanica and GKN respectively) to form AgustaWestland (which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Leonardo). The alliance was an important milestone in the consolidation of Europe’s aerospace and military industries. The Agusta A109 was consequently renamed the AgustaWestland AW109.
Recent AgustaWestland (Leonardo) Range
The AW109 Trekker, the latest improved version of the AW109, was introduced in February 2014. It has skid landing gear (the first twin-engine helicopter produced by AgustaWestland to include this feature) and has a state-of-the-art glass cockpit. It is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207C engines with full authority digital engine control (FADEC), which was designed for single-pilot operation. FADEC is a computer-managed ignition and engine control system that digitally manages all aspects of engine performance. The large and flexible-design cabin also has superb soundproofing and provides passengers with a quiet and comfortable flight.
The recent AW109 GrandNew introduced various advanced avionics systems including a four-axis digital autopilot to reduce pilot workload and increase situational awareness.
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AgustaWestland is a leading aircraft manufacturer with a range of multi-purpose, innovative, and cutting-edge helicopters. The AW109’s reputation for having fewer maintenance needs than other helicopters is due in part to its dependable components across the range. With a commitment to safety and customer satisfaction, AgustaWestland has enjoyed steady growth in the European market and is poised to continue its success in the years to come.
(images sourced from Leonardo Helicopters for educational purposes)