The Austrian military and the Italian Guardia di Finanza are the first operators of the newest variant of the AW169.
Leonardo has recently begun the delivery of the newest variant of its AW169M light-intermediate twin engine helicopter, which replaces the standard wheeled landing gear with skids. The skid undercarriage, which represents another option other that the already available fixed and retractable landing gear, was certified by EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) in November 2022, together with some other recently introduced capabilities.
The Guardia di Finanza (Italy’s Customs Police Force with general capability in economic and financial matters as well as the only maritime Police Force in Italy) took delivery of its first AW169 with the new skid undercarriage on January 24, 2023. The handover was performed at Leonardo Helicopters’ Vergiate assembly line during an official ceremony in presence of representatives from the Guardia di Finanza and Leonardo.
The helicopter will be part of an AW169M fleet of 24 units, including six with fixed landing gear and eighteen with skid undercarriage. Guardia di Finanza first received the military-certified AW169M with standard landing gear in late 2019. All helicopters are expected to be delivered by 2024, complementing a fleet of 20 AW139 intermediate helicopters already in service.
The AW169M features excellent handling characteristics in a wide range of operating conditions, thanks to its power, agility and manoeuvrability, satisfying the requirements of the various missions sets of the Guardia di Finanza. The helicopters, which are designated PH-169A in accordance with Italy’s MoD Mission Design Series, are used for various tasks including maritime police/patrol, homeland customs security, law enforcement, search and rescue, and other security duties.
In order to perform these tasks, the AW169s of Guardia di Finanza feature a dedicated configuration which includes a rescue hoist, an emergency floatation system and life rafts, wire cutters, TCAS II (Traffic Collision Avoidance System), a NVG (Night Vision Goggle) compatible cockpit, HTAWS (Helicopter Terrain Awareness Warning System), an advanced communication system, advanced HUMS (Health Usage Monitoring System), a searchlight, an ice detector, SATCOM, mobile phone detector and hyperspectral detection and reconnaissance system.
The helicopters are also fitted with a range of Leonardo systems such as a RW ATOS (Airborne Tactical Observation and Surveillance) system with an advanced operator console, Gabbiano radar, LEOSS (Long Range Electro-Optical Surveillance System), M428 IFF transponder, OPLS (Obstacle Proximity Lidar System), V/UHF radio systems cockpit panels and lighting.
The latest variant of the AW169 introduces unique IFR, single pilot, Advanced Search and Rescue (SAR) Modes with dedicated FMS (Flight Management System) search patterns enabling the aircraft to automatically fly along a predefined search path, which reduces pilot’s workload on the search phase of a SAR mission. The AW169 is the only helicopter in its weight category that features Advanced SAR Modes, according to Leonardo.
Just a month before, on December 21, 2022, the Austrian Ministry of Defence took also delivery of its first AW169M with skid undercarriage. The helicopter is the first from an initial order of 18 units, following an Italy-Austria Government-to-Government (G2G) Agreement announced at the end of 2021. This also represents the first export deal of the AW169M helicopter.
The two countries announced in that occasion a G2G Agreement amendment through which Austria is exercising options for an additional 18 helicopters, bringing to 36 the total number of AW169M Light Utility Helicopters for the Bundesheer (Austrian Armed Forces). The acquisition contract, valued at 304 million EUR, was then signed on January 18, 2023.
The handover of the aircraft, built at Leonardo’s Vergiate facility, happened during an official ceremony held at the Tulln-Langenlebarn Brumowski Air Base. The AW169M will replace the ageing Alouette III aircraft fleet, which have been in service since the 1960s and will be retired this year. The AW169M will carry out a wide range of missions supporting Austrian defence requirements and the population, such as troop transport, combat operations, disaster relief and emergency response, fire-fighting, mountain rescue and MEDEVAC.
According to the reports, the first helicopter delivered, sporting the serial 5M-IA, is actually an AW169B and arrived in Austria a week earlier to perform some test flights before the official delivery. This also reflects earlier reports that the order was divided in six AW169Bs training helicopters and twelve AW169MAs advanced multirole helicopters, with the option for a further twelve AW169MAs and six AW169Bs.
The Italy-Austria G2G initiative is aimed at reinforcing the bilateral collaboration between the two countries and establishing a strategic partnership in the rotorcraft sector. According to Austrian websites, the Federal Ministry of Defence was looking for a partner which would be willing to fully cooperate with the Austrian Armed Forces in all areas of the operation of military helicopters, in order to be able to work cost-effectively over the entire life cycle. Austrian crews have already been leveraging initial training supplied at Leonardo’s Training Academy in Sesto Calende and will be supported by the Italian Army’s training capabilities as the main AW169M LUH operator.
In fact, the LUH program was initiated by the Italian Ministry of Defence to replace the ageing Combat Support Helicopters (Elicotteri da Supporto al Combattimento, ESC) currently in service with the Italian Army, like the A-109, AB-205, AB-206, AB-212 and AB-412, while filling the gaps due to the obsolescence of the current fleet and optimizing logistics with a single-platform fleet, instead of the current one based on five different helicopters that were put in service between the 1970s and the 1990s.
The advanced multirole configuration of the AW169 LUH currently in development will be externally similar to the ones recently delivered and will feature dedicated flight and mission equipment including NVG-compatible integrated glass cockpit, advanced C4 systems (Command, Control, Communication and Computers), rescue hoist and rappelling/fast roping equipment, Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) system, self-defense systems, searchlight, loudspeakers, cargo hook and both internal and external weapon stations.
The Army already received a training version of the LUH, which has been designated UH-169B. The UH-169B is formally configured as “Addestratore Basico Commerciale” (Basic Commercial Trainer) and is being used the training of the crews that will fly the final configuration of the helicopter, called “Multiruolo Avanzato” (Advanced Multirole). It is possible that the first helicopter delivered to the Austrian MoD has a similar configuration, with the main difference being the landing gear (the Italian UH-169B has a standard landing gear instead of skids).