The Rome-based Leonardo Helicopters recently opened a new plant in Pisa, Italy, to focus on the development and production of the AWHERO Rotary Unmanned Aircraft System (RUAS).
Leonardo unveiled the first pre-production aircraft at the Pisa plant, as Alessandro Profumo, the company’s CEO, said that UAS “are among the pillars of our growth strategy” and that Leonardo plans “to become a market leader in this field.”
The AWHERO RUAS program launched in 2012 under a joint venture with Sistemi Dinamici S.p.A, a company that Leonardo acquired in 2016.
Leonardo is no newcomer to UAS development, as it also builds the SW-4 Solo small surveillance drones and the Falco and Sky-Y fixed-wing aircraft.
The pre-production 200kg-class AWHERO prototype includes an improved airframe and aerodynamics, a new fuel system, a new composite tail rotor drive shaft, and a new liquid-cooled rotary engine.
The aircraft performed its 10-minute maiden flight in Nettuno, close to Rome, in December last year, Leonardo said. The second pre-production AWHERO is expected to join trials and take to the air in the next few months, and Italian military certification of the aircraft is expected by the end of 2019.
Designed for land and naval environments, AWHERO will be capable of performing diverse missions, such as maritime and border surveillance, homeland security, pipeline and powerline monitoring, environmental monitoring, search and rescue, disaster relief and damage assessment during natural disasters.
“With a maximum endurance in excess of 6 hours, the AWHERO is designed with high reliability and low operating costs, multiple redundancy of all main critical systems for maximum safety, and a multiple payload capacity to meet a range of missions,” Leonardo said. “Payload may include a radar (such as the Leonardo Gabbiano TS UltraLight), electro-optics, Electronic Support Measures, LiDAR and advanced communication systems among others. For maritime roles the aircraft integrates a deck sensor and autopilot modes specially developed to allow fully automatic landing and take-off from vessels. As operators look at future land and maritime airborne joint manned-unmanned missions, AWHERO will be fully integrated into those scenarios.”
The AWHERO is to be used this year in maritime surveillance capability demonstrations on ships under the European Defense Fund’s OCEAN 2020 initiative. Leonardo is leading a team of 42 European aerospace firms for OCEAN 2020 — a research effort for naval surveillance technology and maritime safety.