Exactly 50 years ago on this day in aviation history, the Augusta Westland AW109 (Then the Augusta A109 Hirundo) made its first flight with test pilot Otorino Lancia at the controls. It was to be the first all Italian helicopter mass production helicopter. It is now built by Leonardo S.p.A. (after previously mergers).
An Agusta A109 prototype hovering in ground effect
The initial design for the A109 helicopter was for a single-engine commercial helicopter, soon in development, it became clear that a twin-engine design was the way forward, and in 1969 the design was altered by installing two Allison 250-C14 turboshaft engines. After shortly considering a military version (The A109B) it was decided to go forward with the development of an eight-seat commercial version, the A109C. Three pre-production prototypes were built, of which serial number 7101 made the first flight 50 years ago to date. During the test flying dynamic instability was encountered which prolonged the test program and a redesign of the transmission system. The first production aircraft was completed in April 1975, with the aircraft receiving VFR certification from the FAA in June of that year.
In 1976 deliveries of production A109 aircraft began and it became apparent that the A109 had its advantages over the Bell 206 (greater seating capacity, dual engine and higher speed), then the market leader. In 1975 the development of a military model was initiated and a fleet of 5 A190A's performed a test program that led to two military versions, a light attack/close air support version and a version for (naval) ships operations.
After the introduction of the initial A109A, several improvements were incorporated.
1991, the A109A Mk2 was introduced with a wider cabin.
1993, the A109 K2 was introduced with new powerplants, Turbomeca Arriel 1K1 engines
1996, the A109 K2 was introduced, an A109 K2 fuselage with Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206 engines
1997, the A109E Power was introduced, which was developed into the A109 Power Elite with a stretched cabin, glass cockpit, three-axis autopilot, and A/P couples ILS and a GPS System
2006, the A109S Grand was introduced, a longer fuselage, bigger rotor and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207 engines
Other improvements in the design are the newer materials being used in, amongst others, the rotor blades, were the initial versions fitted with bonded metal blades, now composite blades are being used. Since its initial design, the aircraft has been built in 24 different variants by the factory in Italy. A 25th version is built in China, the CA109. This is a Chinese direct copy of the AW109E for by Jiangxi Changhe Agusta Helicopter Co., Ltd., a Leonardo Helicopter Division and Changhe Aviation Industries Joint Venture Company established in 2005
Some specifications for the AW109 with P&W 206C engines
Crew: 1 or 2
Capacity: 6 or 7 passengers
Length: 11.448 m (37 ft 7 in) fuselage
Height: 3.50 m (11 ft 6 in)
Empty weight: 1,590 kg (3,505 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 2,850 kg (6,283 lb)
Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206C Turboshaft engine, 418 kW (560 hp) each
Main rotor diameter: 11.00 m (36 ft 1 in)
Maximum speed: 311 km/h (193 mph, 168 kn)
Cruise speed: 285 km/h (177 mph, 154 kn)
Never exceed speed: 311 km/h (193 mph, 168 kn)
Ferry range: 932 km (579 mi, 503 nmi)
Rate of climb: 9.8 m/s (1,930 ft/min)