We've been following the development of Eurocopter's X3 demonstrator with interest in recent years, but it's far from the only aircraft that aims to combine the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities of a helicopter with the speed, range and altitude capabilities of a fixed wing aircraft. Tiltrotor aircraft that feature powered rotors mounted on rotating shafts or nacelles at the end of a fixed wing have been around for half a century, the most famous probably being the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey. While the V-22 is a military aircraft, AgustaWestland is developing its AW609 as a multi-role aircraft aimed at private, commercial, and government markets.
The AgustaWestland AW609 started life in 1996 as the experimental tiltrotor Bell XV-15 developed by Bell/Boeing. After Boeing pulled out of the project in March 1998, Agusta came on board in September of that year. It then became the Bell/Agusta BA609 and development continued through the merging of Agusta and Westland Helicopters in 2000.
AgustaWestland announced another name change for the aircraft to the AW609 at the Paris Air Show in June 2011 as it announced its intention to buy Bell Helicopter out of the program. This acquisition was completed in November 2011 and AgustaWestland has established a new subsidiary at a site in Arlington, Texas, to manage FAA certification and flight-testing of the first AW609 prototype.
A second prototype is continuing testing in Cascina Costa di Samarate, Italy, with a third currently being assembled that will be devoted to icing certification testing. A planned fourth prototype will be used for the development and integration of new avionics and mission avionics.
AgustaWestland says the first two prototypes have already clocked up more than 650 flight hours and have proven the aircraft's ability to fly at altitudes of up to 25,000 feet and cruise at speeds of up to 275 knots at the aircraft's maximum takeoff weight of 16,800 lb (7,620 kg).
The AW609 is designed to fly with a crew of one or two and accommodate six to nine passengers. Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67A turboshaft engines, each delivering 1,940 hp (1,447 kW), the AW609 boasts a range of 700 nautical miles (805 miles, 1,296 km).
AgustaWestland is aiming to receive FAA certification for the AW609 in the first half of 2016 with deliveries set to begin immediately after. The company says it has already received orders for around 70 of the aircraft to perform a range of commercial and government roles. AgustaWestland says the AW609's capabilities make it ideal for applications such as emergency medical services (EMS), search and rescue (SAR), transport for "deepwater" oil and gas facilities, and transporting VIPs and Heads of State to and from congested urban areas inaccessible for fixed wing aircraft.