The AgustaWestland AW109 is a lightweight, twin-engine, eight-seat multi-purpose helicopter built by the Italian manufacturer Leonardo-Finmeccanica (formerly AgustaWestland, merged into the new Finmeccanica since 2016). The rotorcraft had the distinction of being the first all-Italian helicopter to be mass-produced.
Developed as the A109 by Agusta, it originally entered service in 1976 and has since been used in various roles, including light transport, medevac, search-and-rescue, and military roles. The AW109 has been in continuous production for 40 years. The AgustaWestland AW119 is a derivative of the AW109, the main difference being that it is powered only by a single engine instead.
In the late 1960s, Agusta designed the A109 originally as a single-engine commercial helicopter. However, it was soon realised that a twin-engine design was needed and it was re-designed in 1969 with two Allison 250-C14turboshaft engines. A projected military version (the A109B) was considered early on but Agusta initially chose not to pursue immediate development, instead concentrating on the eight-seat A109C version. The first of three prototypes made its maiden flight on 4 August 1971. The A109's flight testing phase was prolonged, this was due in part to the discovery of dynamic instability which took a year to resolve via a modified transmission design; this led to the first production aircraft being completed almost four years later in April 1975. On 1 June 1975, certification for visual flight rules (VFR) upon the A109 was received from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
In 1976, deliveries of production A109 to customers began. Advantages over the then-market leadingBell 206 were the A109's superior speed, twin-engine redundancy, and greater seating capacity. In 1975, Agusta returned again to the possibility of a military version, thus a series of trials were carried out between 1976 and 1977 using a total of five A109As outfitted with Hughes Aircraft-built TOW missiles. Two military versions emerged from this program, one was intended for light attack/close support missions and the other for shipboard operations.
A Belgian AW109 Power performing a display flight, 2013
Improved civil versions quickly followed on from the initial production model; in 1981, a A109A Mk2 with a widened cabin was made available to operators. In 1993, the A109 K2 was introduced using a new powerplant, a pair of Turbomeca Arriel 1K1 engines; this was followed by the A109 Power, broadly similar to the K2 except for the use of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206 engines instead, in 1996. According to AgustaWestland, the A109 Power was in service in 46 countries by 2008. In 2006, an enlarged variant, the A109S Grand, was introduced.
The Agusta A109 was renamed the AW109 following the July 2000 merger of Finmeccanica S.p.A. and GKN plc's respective helicopter subsidiaries Agusta and Westland Helicopters to form AgustaWestland. Since the mid-1990s, fuselages for the AW109 have been manufactured by PZL-Świdnik, which became a subsidiary company of AgustaWestland in 2010. In June 2006, the 500th fuselage was delivered by PZL-Świdnik, marking 10 years of co-operation on the AW109 between the two companies. In 2004, AgustaWestland formed a joint venture with Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation for the support and production of the AW109; by 2009, the joint venture was capable to perform final assembly of the AW109, as well as manufacture major sections such as the fuselage.
In February 2014, AgustaWestland revealed that it was developing the AW109 Trekker, an updated variant of the AW109. It is equipped with skid landing gear (the first helicopter by AgustaWestland to have this feature) and is powered by a pair of FADEC-equipped Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207C engines; its avionics are supplied by Genesys Aerospace, which have been designed for single-pilot operations. The Trekker reportedly advances upon the standard AW109's utility capabilities. As per prior AW109 versions, the final assembly of the Trekker is undertaken at sites in both the US and Italy.
The AW109 is a lightweight twin-engine helicopter, known for its speed, elegant appearance and ease of control. Since entering commercial service, several revisions and iterations have been made, frequently introducing new avionics and engine technologies. AgustaWestland have promoted the type for its multirole capabilities and serviceability. The type has proven highly popular with VIP/corporate customers; according to AgustaWestland, 50% of all of the AW109 Power variant had been sold in such configurations. Other roles for the AW109 have included emergency medical services, law enforcement, homeland security missions, harbor pilot shuttle duty, search and rescue, maritime operations, and military uses. In 2008, AgustaWestland claimed the AW109 to be "one of the industry’s best-selling helicopters".
A range of turboshaft powerplants have been used to power the numerous variants of the AW109, from the original Allison 250-C14 engines to the Turbomeca Arriel 1K1 and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206 of more modern aircraft. Powerplants can be replaced or swapped for during airframe overhauls, resulting in increasing lifting capacity and other performance changes. In the case of single-engine failure, the AW109 is intended to have a generous power reserve even on a single engine. The engines drive a fully articulated four-blade rotor system. Over time, more advanced rotor blade designs have been progressively adopted for the AW109's main and tail rotors, such as composite materials being used to replace bonded metal, these improvements have typically been made with the aim of reducing operating costs and noise signature. According to Rotor&Wing, the type is well regarded for its "high, hot, and heavy" performance.
Head-on view of a low-flying AW109, 2008
According to AgustaWestland, the AW109 Power features various advanced avionics systems, these include a three-axis autopilot, an auto-coupled Instrument Landing System, integrated GPS, a Moving Map Display, weather radar, and a Traffic Alerting System. These systems are designed to reduce pilot workload (the AW109 can be flown under single or dual-pilot instrument flight rules (IFR)) and enable the use of night vision goggles (NVG) to conduct day-or-night operations. The AW109 has a forced trim system which can be readily and selectively activated by the controlling pilot using triggers located on the cyclic and collective which hold the control inputs at the last set position if activated. All critical systems are deliberately redundant for fail-safe operations; the hydraulic system, hydraulic actuators, and electrical system are all duel-redundant, while the power inverters are triple-redundant. The AW109 also has reduced maintenance requirements due to an emphasis on reliability across the range of components used.
Some models of the AW109 feature the "quick convertible interior", a cabin configuration designed to be flexibly re-configured to allow the rotorcraft to be quickly adapted for different roles, such as the installation or removal of mission consoles or medical stretchers. Mission-specific equipment can also be installed in the externally accessible separate baggage compartment, which can be optionally expanded. Optional cabin equipment includes soundproofing, air conditioning, and bleed air heating. Aftermarket cabin configurations are offered by third parties; Pininfarina and Versace have both offered designer interiors for the AW109, while Aerolite Max Bucher has developed a lightweight emergency medical service interior. The majority of AW109s are fitted with a retractable wheeled tricycle undercarriage, providing greater comfort than skids and taxiing capability. For shipboard operations, the wheeled landing gear is reinforced, deck mooring points are fixed across the lower fuselage, and extensive corrosion protection is typically applied.
Optional mission equipment for the AW109 has included dual controls, a rotor brake, windshield wipers, a fixed cargo hook, snow skis, external loudspeakers, wire-strike protection system, engine particle separator, engine compartment fire extinguishers, datalink, and rappelling fittings. A range of armaments can be installed upon the AW109, including pintle-mounted machine guns, machine gun pods, 20mm cannons, rocket pods, anti-tank missiles and air-to-air missiles. Those AW109s operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, later designated as MH-68A, had the following equipment installed: a rescue hoist, emergency floats, FLIR, Spectrolab NightSun search light, a 7.62 mm M240D machine gun and a Barrett M107 semi-automatic .50 caliber anti-material rifle with laser sight.
Various branches of the Italian military have operated variants of the AW109; the Guardia di Finanza has operated its own variant of the AW109 since the 1980s for border patrol and customs duties, by 2010, it was in the process of replacing its original AW109s with a new-generation of AW109s.
In the 1990s, the US Coast Guard, seeking to tackle drug trafficking on small speed boats via armed aerial interdiction helicopters, evaluated several options and selected the AW109 as the winner. For a number of years, eight armed AW109s, designated MH-68A Sting Ray, were leased from AgustaWestland and deployed at Coast Guard land facilities and onboard cutters. Positive experience with the AW109 led to the Coast Guard deciding to arm all of its helicopters and, following adaptions of their existing assets, the AW109s were returned after the lease expired.
In September 1999, the South African Air Force (SAAF) placed an order for 30 AW109s; 25 of the 30 rotorcraft was assembled locally by Denel Aviation, starting in 2003. As many as 16 SAAF AW109s were deployed for patrol, utility, and medical evacuation missions during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In July 2013, the SAAF reported that 18 AW109s had effectively been grounded due to lack of funding, these rotorcraft being only occasionally activated but not conducting flights; in 2013, only 71 flight hours were allocated to the whole AW109 fleet. The type may be reduced to flying VIPs rather than being operationally capable; South Africa is also considering selling a number of AW109s, and may cease helicopter operations altogether.
In 2001, 20 AW109s were ordered for the Swedish Armed Forces, receiving the Swedish military designation of Hkp 15. In 2010, it was reported that considerable demands were being placed upon the AW109 fleet, in part due to the delayed delivery of the NHIndustries NH90. In early 2015, a pair of Swedish AW109s were deployed on board the Royal Netherlands Navy ship HNLMS Johan de Witt, their first-ever deployment on board a foreign vessel, in support of a multinational anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia; the AW109 reportedly achieve a 100% availability rate over the course of three months.
An Australian AW109 during a rescue demonstration, 2008
Between 2007 and 2012, three AW109E Power helicopters were operated under lease by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) to train naval aircrew.
In August 2008, Scott Kasprowicz and Steve Sheik broke the round-the-world speed record using a factory-standard AgustaWestland AW109S Grand, with a time of 11 days, 7 hours and 2 minutes. The AW109S Grand is also recorded as being the fastest helicopter from New York to Los Angeles.
In 2013, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) and the Philippine Navy independently ordered batches of AW109 Power rotorcraft; additional AW109s were ordered in 2014. The PAF AW109s are used as armed gunships, while both armed and unarmed AW109s are operated by the Philippine Navy.
Dyfed-Powys Police Air Support Unit Helicopter (X-Ray 99) demonstration at police HQ Open Day 2008
The first production model, powered by two Allison Model 250-C20 turboshaft engines. It made its first flight on 4 August 1971. Initially, the A109 was marketed under the name of "Hirundo" (Latin for the swallow), but this was dropped within a few years.
Aeromedical evacuation version based on A109A Mk.II with extra wide cabin and access doors hinged top and bottom, rather than to one side.
Unbuilt military version.
Eight-seat civil version, powered by two Allison Model 250-C20R-1 turboshaft engines.
Aeromedical evacuation version based on A109C with extra-wide cabin and access doors hinged top and bottom, rather than to one side.
One prototype only
Upgraded civilian version, initially powered by two TurbomecaArrius 2K1 engines. Later the manufacturer introduced an option for two Pratt & Whitney PW206C engines to be used – both versions remain known as the A109E. Marketed as the AW109E and Power.
A109E Power Elite
A stretched cabin version of A109E Power. Features a glass cockpit with two complete sets of pilot instruments and navigation systems, including a three-axis autopilot, an auto-coupled Instrument Landing System and GPS.
Marketed as the AW109 Grand, it is a lengthened cabin-upgraded civilian version with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207 engines and lengthened main rotor blades with different tip design from the Power version.
A variant of the GrandNew with fixed landing skids.
Chinese direct copy of the AW109E for China mainland market by Jiangxi Changhe Agusta Helicopter Co.,Ltd., a Leonardo Helicopter Division(formerly AgustaWestland) and Changhe Aviation Industries Joint Venture Company established in 2005.
In October 1989 – a private charter A109A Mk.II crash landed in New Jersey, killing three executives of the Trump Organization. The cause was a manufacturing defect in one of the main rotor blades.
On 10 October 2001 (2001-10-10) – an A109E Power on a night medevac flight crashed on Poggio Ballone (Grosseto, Italy). Two pilots, two medical personnel and one patient were killed.:
On 16 January 2013 (2013-01-16): Vauxhall helicopter crash, an AW109 on charter to Rotormotion clipped a construction crane attached to the St George Wharf Tower in Vauxhall, London, before crashing to the ground and bursting into flames, killing the pilot and a person on the ground. The helicopter was completely destroyed and the crane was also seriously damaged.
On 15 December 2012, a Nigerian Navy AgustaWestland helicopter crashed in Bayelsa State while conveying VIPs to Port Harcourt from Okoroba Village in Bayelsa state, the crash claimed the lives of six people, including Kaduna state Governor Patrick Yakowa. The investigation stated the cause could have either been human error, material failure or a combination of both. Turbomeca were closely examining the engine.
On 17 July 2014, a Tri-State Careflight AW109E helicopter (N507CF) crashed in New Mexico with one pilot and two crew members on board. There were no survivors. The cause of this crash is the subject of ongoing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
On 5 July 2015, an Agusta A109E with Philippine registry number RP-C2726 crashed in Cuenca, Batangas province while flying in heavy rainfall. The incident killed the pilot and passenger Archimedes King, founder of the Victoria Court motel chain; 6 other passengers were injured.
On 17 July 2015, an Agusta A109K-2 of the Slovak rescue services, Air Transport Europe s.r.o., with the registry number OM-ATB crashed in the "Slovensky Raj" national park near the village of Hrabusice in north Slovakia while responding to rescue a ten-year-old German boy who suffered a leg injury. The helicopter hit unmarked high voltage power lines in a rocky valley and subsequently crashed into a river, killing four men (pilot, doctor, paramedic and a mountain rescuer).