Experimental Leonardo AW249 attack helo makes its first flight
The first prototype of the AW249 attack helicopter, developed by Leonardo Helicopters, made its first flight. The flight was on August 12 at the company’s facilities in Vergiate, Italy.
The helicopter was equipped with the OTO Melara TM197B 20mm machine gun and Rafael’s Toplite Electro-Optic. The experimental prototype was the first helicopter produced under the NEES. The NEES program runs by the Italian Army.
The NEES program was launched in 2017. The program should to replace the A129D Mangusta reconnaissance and attack helicopters. They have been in service with the Italian army since the 1990s. The NEES was signed with Leonardo Helicopters for the development of the AW249 helicopter for $487 million. The delivery of 1 experimental prototype, 3 serial prototypes, and 48 operational helicopters is envisaged within the project.
“The AW249 meets all the requirements of a new generation helicopter that will meet the needs of the rapidly evolving battlefield over the next 30 years. The AW249 will combine advanced technology, outstanding performance, and high endurance with low operating costs,” the company said in a statement. The Italian military will retire the A129D in 2025. It also plans to take delivery of the AW249 from 2025.
Architecture and Power
For the AW249 to adapt to changing scenarios according to the needs of the future battlefield, the helicopter is planned to be designed with open system architecture. The helicopter, which will be equipped with line-of-sight [LOS], beyond-line-of-sight [BLOS] communication equipment, and advanced command and control systems, is also planned to be able to operate unmanned systems. In addition, the helicopter will also have a digital cockpit and a helmet-mounted display [HMD] system to increase situational awareness.
The helicopter is powered by 2 GE Aviation CT7-8E6 [T700] turboshaft engines. Each of them capable of producing 2,583 shp [1,925 kW]. The AW249 has a maximum take-off weight [MTOW] of 8,000 kg, almost twice that of the A129D. The helicopter is designed to operate in high altitude, low and high-temperature conditions. The helicopter will be able to serve as a deployed ship when needed. With its higher maximum take-off weight, it will be able to carry almost twice as much weaponry as the A129D.
The AW249, which has six weapon stations, is expected to carry a 20mm machine gun, guided/unguided missiles, external fuel tanks, air-to-air missiles, and Rafael-made SPIKE anti-tank missiles. The helicopter will have advanced self-defense systems, an Elettronica ELT-162 Radar Warning Receiver [RWR], and an ELT/577 Quiris Directed Infrared Countermeasure System [DIRCM], a Leonardo-manufactured Multi-Aperture Infrared Detection System [MAIR] and a warning system for missiles [MWS].
The helicopter, which will have an armored cockpit and fuel tanks, spare mission equipment, and a crash-resistant fuselage to increase survivability, will also be designed with a low radar cross-section and infrared signature for low detectability.
Poland is also expecting the AW249
Although the AW249 has not yet achieved export success, it signed a letter of intent [LOI] to cooperate in Leonardo’s development activities with the Polish company PGZ in 2018. The AW249 was expected to be one of the candidates in Poland’s project to replace Mi-24 helicopters, but in early 2022 it was announced that one of the AH-64E or AH-1Z helicopters would be selected.
Although there are reports that Germany wants to replace the Eurocopter Tiger helicopters with AW249s that are not happy with the performance in their inventory, there are reports that Romania is interested in the AW249 at the BSDA show held in Bucharest, no official purchase has been announced yet.