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Photos from Leonardo
Leonardo continues to make preparations for the commercialization of the world’s first civil tiltrotor aircraft, now approaching type certification almost two decades after its first flight.
At the company’s North American headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the stage is being set for production, training, and support of the AW609. Leonardo’s new training center, an $80 million investment, will open its doors to the public this month with Level D full flight simulators for the AW139, 169, and 609, the last of which will begin certification at the end of the summer.
The facility, modeled after Leonardo’s training academy in Sesto Calende, Italy, received its Part 142 certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in mid-February. Co-located with the company’s engineering, support, and manufacturing teams for numerous aircraft models, the new academy will soon have a maintenance training device for the 609 as well.
“It’s critical that we’re on a single campus, close to where the aircraft are being produced, close to engineering, close to the entire support stream from sales through marketing all the way into the commitments and contracting,” said Terry Eichman, head of training operations for Leonardo’s business in the U.S.
Leonardo also acquired an additional hangar just across the street from its main production facilities — a building the company has been eyeing for over a decade — to separate 609 production from the 119 and 139, both of which are ramping up due to successful bids for military contracts with the U.S. Air Force and Navy. Moving 609 production into the new hangar will allow for work on four or five of the winged aircraft at a time.
For Bill Hunt, CEO of Leonardo in Philadelphia, the 609 project has been instrumental in establishing the Philadelphia branch as a leading engineering presence within the company.
“We were able to convince the parent company that as we’re moving from a flight test program into final development and a production program, what better place to put the 609 than here in our active production lines,” Hunt told Vertical during a site visit in February. “That put us on the map as an engineering hub within the company.”
At its peak, the Philadelphia facility had 85 engineers working on the 609 certification program, according to Hunt, which raised the level of expertise on-site and helped Leonardo recruit against Boeing, Sikorsky, Lockheed Martin, and other high-tech companies with a major presence nearby.
“We’re now transitioning into that production program, and that’s what you see on the floor today. Aircraft 5 and 6 are out there, we’re starting to build fully production-representative aircraft,” Hunt said. “Aircraft 5 will be used to do certification flights with the FAA, but beyond that it’s already in production configuration, which is the most important part for us of transitioning between developmental, all the phases you go through . . . to when you believe you’ve got a product you can finally put in customers’ hands.”