Kopter SH09 rebranded as Leonardo AW09

Avatar for Oliver JohnsonBy Oliver Johnson | April 21, 2021

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 47 seconds.

Kopter’s SH09 has been rebranded as the Leonardo AW09, as the program marks its official entry into the Leonardo product range.

The Kopter SH09 has now become the Leonardo AW09. The aircraft's new type identifier and logo can be seen on the passenger door. Leonardo Photo
The Kopter SH09 has now become the Leonardo AW09. The aircraft’s new type identifier and logo can be seen on the passenger door. Leonardo Photo

The news was announced shortly after the companies celebrated the first anniversary of Leonardo’s $185 million purchase of the Swiss-based upstart manufacturer, announced on the eve of HAI Heli-Expo 2020 in Los Angeles, California.

The rebranding was a collaborative effort between the Kopter and Leonardo marketing teams, they told media during a briefing, with the aim being to both reflect its distinct heritage and its incorporation within the Leonardo product line.

To achieve the former, it has kept its two-digit identifier “09,” making it unique among the Leonardo fleet, with all the OEM’s other types having with a three-digit number (such as AW109, AW119, AW139, AW149, AW189 and AW609). The Kopter company logo — a stylized “+” inspired by the Swiss flag and a four-bladed rotor — is also included on the AW09’s logo, in place of a third digit.

Adopting the “AW” brings it on-brand as a Leonardo aircraft, replacing the “SH” which was a legacy of the company’s original name: Marenco Swisshelicopter.

“The new name is the best mix of two different and complementary identities,” said Marco Viola, Kopter CEO, explaining that the decision was driven by the same integration principles Leonardo had applied to Kopter since the beginning of the process.

“On the one side, [we] enter into a big family — the people but also the product — with a strong heritage and tradition, [so we are] gaining the ‘AW’ mark,” he said. “On the other side, we wanted . . . to maintain and preserve Kopter’s strong original history. . . . Thus keeping the double digit instead of the three digits [of Leonardo’s product range], [and] replacing the third digit with the mark of the Kopter logo.”

The potential for the 2.8-tonne AW09 to be confused with AW009 — an evolved version of the 1.8-tonne SW-4 Leonardo announced at HAI Heli-Expo 2016 — was dismissed by Leonardo, largely because plans for that program have been quietly dropped.

“We haven’t moved forward in the upgrade program on [the] SW-4 because we believed that at a certain point, the market wasn’t there for this kind of investment,” said a Leonardo spokesperson. “But this is a different category compared to the AW09. These are two different markets.”

Continued flight testing with third prototype

As Vertical reported in March, Kopter has resumed flight testing with the third prototype of the AW09 following a major retrofit. The aircraft has now logged more than 40 flight hours since it resumed testing in mid-January.

Michele Riccobono, Kopter CTO and head of flight operations, said Leonardo chief test pilot Giuseppe Afruni recently flew the aircraft and confirmed the positive feedback Riccobono had received from within his own team about the retrofit.

“It has improved considerably — in terms of performance, in terms of riding qualities, [and] in terms of handling qualities,” he said. “The comments of our pilots, which have been confirmed by Giuseppe [Afruni], are that the aircraft really wants to fly more and more, and the pilot workload is minimal.

“You really want to fly fast, and it’s only the engine torque gauge that is stopping you,” he continued. “On most helicopters, sometimes there is a speed where you really don’t want to go beyond because [of] the noise, the vibration, the environment, the shaking of the aircraft makes you uncomfortable. On the AW09 after this major retrofit, all this is gone. So the aircraft flies beautifully.”

The fourth AW09 prototype — pre-serial four — is currently in production, and due to join the flight test campaign between September and November this year. This will be followed by a fifth prototype next year.

According to Riccobono, only minor configuration evolutions will be made going forward.

Leonardo is targeting first deliveries of the AW09 at the end of 2022, or early 2023.

Kopter is set to become Leonardo’s “Centre of Competence for new light helicopters and an incubator of new technologies for vertical flight,” the company said. This will include contributing to the development of new hybrid and electrical propulsion systems. Leonardo said Kopter will play an important role in the framework of its Be Tomorrow 2030 strategic plan, which aims to put the manufacturer in a leading position in the civil rotorcraft market and modern air mobility.

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