PZL Świdnik Agusta Westland EH-101 / AW.101. 2018. English version

Kraków June 2, 2018

327a Section 2018r.

AgustaWestland EH-101 / AW.101

Poland

History 

AW.101

EH-101. 1988. Foto LAC

EH.101, AW.101. 2018. Foto Karol Placha Hetman

EH.101, AW.101. 2018. Foto Karol Placha Hetman

EH.101, AW.101. 2018. Foto Karol Placha Hetman

EH.101, AW.101. 2018. Foto Karol Placha Hetman

 

AW.101

Agusta helicopter

The Italian Agusta plant was founded in 1907. Italian constructor Giovanni Agusta founded a company manufacturing aircraft of its own design. The Great World War interrupted the company's operations. The company was reactivated in 1923. The company adopted the new name Costruzioni Aeronautiche Agusta S.p.a. The plant was located in Samarate in Lombardy in the north of Italy. The most ambitious program of the company was the Agusta A8, a four-engine aircraft, designed to carry 26 passengers, among others. The aircraft made its first flight on June 9, 1958. The Agusta A.Z.8 is similar to the Douglas DC-4. The plant hasn’t won any orders.

However, already in 1952, Agusta purchased the Bell 47 helicopter license. This decision influenced the change of the production profile. The cooperation of the Agusta and the Bell companies in many studies and programs is conducted to the present.

Agusta helicopters have traditionally been marked with the letter "A" and a three-digit number. The first one was the A.101 helicopter, which takes 35 passengers on board. The company has been involved in the production of turbine engines for its products. In 1961, the Agusta purchased a license for another the Bella product, the Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter. In 1967, Agusta obtained licenses for the production of Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopters, produced in several versions. Also in 1967, a Boeing CH-47 license was purchased. 

In 1971, the company built the most recognizable own helicopter designated A.109. In 1983, the first flight was made an assault helicopter marked Agusta A.129 Mangusta. In 1983, the Agusta factory took over the Italian aircraft manufacturer SIAI-Marchetti.

From the beginning of the 80-year period Augusta's cooperation with the British company Westland Helicopters dates. The first joint project was the AgustaWestland AW.101 helicopter, which replaced the Sea King helicopter. Cooperation was also undertaken with other companies in Western Europe. 

In 1992, all these companies established a consortium NHIndustries, in which Agusta had its shares. The effect of the work was the NH1 NH90 helicopter. In 1998, the company together with the Bell Helicopter Textron established a joint venture known as the Bell / Agusta Aerospace Company. The product of this cooperation is a vertical take off and landing plane (VTOL), Bell / Agusta BA609, predecessor the V-22. In 2001, Agusta and British Westland Helicopters merged and a new AgustaWestland company was established, which has about 20% of the global helicopter market. About 20 types of helicopters have been created to perform various tasks.

Polish participation in the Agusta company

WSK PZL Świdnik searching for orders, in 1996 it concluded a contract with Agusta for the production of structural elements of Agusta A.109 helicopters in Świdnik (currently AgustaWestland AW.109). In Świdnik, the production of helicopter fuselages and tailpieces began. In 2006, a five hundred fuselages A.109 was delivered from Świdnik. In 2001, the cooperation was extended to a fuselage production for the Agusta A.119 Koala (currently AgustaWestland AW.119). Świdnik had a large share in the design and production of AgustaWestland AW.139. Since 2012, complete fuselages for the AW.139 model have been created in Świdnik.

The AW.149 helicopter is one of the most modern helicopters in the world. According to information from May 2015, the company planned to build 350 copies over the next 20 years, which could generate revenues for PZL Świdnik in the amount of over PLN 50 billion.

In Poland, the EC.725 Caracal helicopter of the Airbus Helicopters group was selected. The choice was annulled because the new Government of the Republic assessed that Airbus is not able to offer a basic offset. Further talks were pointless. In this situation, the topic of obtaining new helicopters for the Polish Army has returned. In the current situation (2018), the companies that produce helicopters in Poland, namely Świdnik and Mielec, have a chance.

Interest in the Polish Army

The Polish Army is interested in three helicopters from the AgustaWestland / Leonardo Helicopters group. One of them is larger AW.101, the second is smaller AW-149, and the third is the native W-3PL Głuszec.

AW.101

AW.101 is an average size helicopter with a maximum take-off weight of up to 15 600 kg, equipped with a rear ramp. The helicopter is built in the classic Sikorsky system. A propulsion in a helicopter is composed of three turbine engines. AW.101 has been used not only in the army, but also in civilian tasks. It was purchased by several European countries, as well as by the USA, Canada and Japan.

At the end of the 70's of the XX century, the navies of Italy and Great Britain began searching for a new machine that could replace Westland Sea King helicopters. Westland Sea King is a far-reaching modification of the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopter, which made its first flight in 1969. A natural consequence was the combination of cooperation between Agusta and Westland. 

In 1980, the British company Westland and the Italian Agusta founded the company European Helicopters Industrie Ltd with branches in Yeovil (UK) and Milan (Italy). They undertook work on a helicopter that was to meet the requirements of both armies. The main users were to be NAVY troops. The program of construction of this helicopter was then the most ambitious, the most advanced and the most expensive one at the same time. The new helicopter was to strengthen the position of both countries in the construction of helicopters. The first flight is scheduled for 1987. The next two years are flight tests in the amount of 5000 hours. Mass production since 1989. It was planned to sell 1,000 helicopters.

Three motors are provided as the drive. General Electric CT-7-2A engines with a capacity of 1 289 kW each were selected for prototypes. For series helicopters, Rolls-Royce / Turbomeca RTM322 engines are provided.

On June 12, 1981, the Government of the United Kingdom confirmed its participation in the project, allocating an initial budget of GBP 20 million to the development of nine pre-series machines. The main agreement, which provided funding for the EH.101 program, was signed by the British and Italian government in 1984. This is how EH Industries Limited (EHI) was founded. The effect of this joint venture was the EH.101 helicopter program. During the air show in Paris in 1985, the Agusta company showed a model of a new helicopter. It was a very general model, because from the very beginning the helicopter was to be made for a specific client's order, ie it was supposed to be a platform adapted to many tasks.

The first prototype made the first flight on October 9, 1987. The first serial helicopter was delivered in May 1997 and the recipient was RAF.

In 1987, a large interest in the EH.101 helicopter (at present AW.101) was expressed by Canada, which intended to use the helicopter mainly over the North Atlantic and Pacific, that is in very difficult conditions. Canadians liked the third engine very much and the helicopter's autonomy in operation. In addition, the helicopter was to have a very large range and de-icing systems. However, there were sharp political disputes in Canada. Mainly due to the very large costs of obtaining machines at the moment when the Cold War has come to an end. The contract already signed was canceled and Canada had to pay a fine of USD 470 million. After a few years, Canada still bought helicopters AW.101.

9 prototypes were built. On January 21, 1993, there was a disaster of the second prototype. As a result, flight tests were stopped for six months.

In February 1995, after fourteen years of program operation, the UK finally placed an order for 22 EH.101 machines. A moment later, Italy did so, ordering 16 EH.101 machines. Both contracts were protested by opponents. Opponents claimed that you can buy good machines for much less money.

Due to the consolidation of Agusta and Westland, the helicopter designation was changed from EH.101 to AW.101. In the UK, the helicopter also received its own name Merlin.

In 2001, a transport version of the AW.101 helicopter with rear loading ramp was created.

The helicopter proved to be reliable and gained the recognition of many recipients. AW.101 is very popular and was made in a wide range of versions. Perfectly works on the seas, especially on the difficult North Sea. Therefore, one of the basic versions is the version of maritime rescue. The AW.101 helicopter is also suitable for fighting submarines.

AW.101 due to the large cabin, which is 6.50 m long, 2.30 m wide and 1.91 m high, the helicopter can be used for both submarine anti-submarine and SAR and CSAR missions. The machine also has a 1.80 m wide door in the right side and a smaller door in the left side.

The version of fighting submarines in the UK doesn’t have a rear loading ramp, because this part of the cabin is occupied by the sonar lowered, two acoustic buoys and racks with additional charges to them. The AW.101 helicopter, during standard operations, combating submarines always has on board the basic equipment for rescue missions, so that he can take the survivor from the water and give him basic help at any time. A dozen or so survivors can be taken on board, or 6 stretchers with injured on special mountings. After complete disassembly of the equipment, fighting submarines, which lasts several hours, it is possible to obtain space for example on the 9 stretcher, a dozen or so castaways in a sitting position and rescue equipment. In the anti-submarine configuration, the British Helicopter AW.101 Merlin takes several dozen sonar buoys used in two revolver launchers and sonar dropped into the water. Permanent equipment is a radiolocation station and an optoelectronic head.

The AW.101 Merlin HM2 helicopter used by the Royal Navy can carry up to 4 Sting Ray torpedoes, Mk.11 Mod.3 submarines or Sea Eagle missiles for surface targets. The Italian Navy, in turn, decided to integrate the Marte Mk 2 / S anti-ship missile machine. The helicopter can also be equipped with machine guns caliber 12.7 mm and 7.62 mm.

AW.101 with three engines of the type Rolls-Royce / Turbomeca RTM322 or General Electric CT7, a helicopter with a maximum take-off weight of 15 600 kg, its can reach a maximum range of 1,363 km. The range can be increased by installing additional fuel tanks.

In 2005, AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin were chosen winners of the VXX contest for a US Marine Corps helicopter. The variant AW.101, designated as Kestrel VH-71, has been proposed. However, in 2009 the program was canceled due to the importance of exceeding the program costs and protests of domestic producers.

By 2010, more than 180 AW.101 models were sold worldwide, and 220 machines by 2017. The total fleet of AW.101 performed 200,000 flight hours. AW.101 helicopters were bought by: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, UK. Until now (2018) helicopters AW.101 have participated in 11 accidents and disasters.

AW.101 for Poland

If Poland decided to buy 16 machines (8 pieces for sea and special forces) it would be possible to start production in Świdnik. AW.101 is a multipurpose helicopter with excellent performance enabling the implementation of the most difficult CSAR, SAR and anti-submarine and surface submarine missions.

After the resignation of Caracal helicopters in February 2017, the Ministry of National Defense announced a tender for the purchase of 16 helicopters for the Polish Armed Forces.

In March 2017, Italian AW101 arrived unexpectedly to Poland with a demonstration mission. When he landed at Balice Airport, everyone was surprised. The helicopter was demonstrated in Świdnik and Warsaw. Later, the helicopter was shown at the Fair in Kielce, in the HH-101A Caesar version. HH-101A Caesar is a multirole helicopter designed to meet the demanding missions of special forces and the Navy, including search and rescue tasks and the fight against underwater and surface threats at sea.

Possible win by PZL-Świdnik is a huge opportunity for the plant. From December 2009, components of the AW.101 hull structure were made in Świdnik. What's more, Leonardo continues to offer Polish Army helicopters AW.149 and W-3 Sokół (W-3PL Głuszec). During 21 years of fruitful partnership, the production of the fuselages of the AW.119, AW.109 Power, AW.109 LUH, Grand, and AW.139 models was implemented in Świdnik. The cabin of the latter model was designed by Świdnik constructors. It was the first case of the participation of engineers from PZL-Świdnik in the program of building a new helicopter operated by a Western European company. The Świdnik plant currently produces around 170 helicopter hulls from AgustaWestland annually. The value of supplies in 2008 exceeded PLN 150 million and constituted 35% of the total sales of the factory.

Currently (2018), AW.101 helicopter is manufactured in the United Kingdom in plants belonging to the Leonardo Group.

It seems that the AW.101 helicopter is the perfect solution for the Polish Army. One problem may be the purchase price, as well as the cost of use due to the drive system used, consisting of three engines. But other questions are also born: In Afghanistan, a Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter with 30 special forces soldiers crashed. A huge loss. Maybe, use smaller helicopters to make the possible losses small?

 

Written by Karol Placha Hetman