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Leonardo opened a new facility in Pisa on 15 February dedicated to the development and production of the AWHERO rotary unmanned air systems (RUAS), at the same time officially unveiling the first pre-production aircraft.

Alessandro Profumo, CEO of Leonardo, commented that the new facility “…. demonstrates Leonardo’s way forward: we invest in high-end technology and highly-skilled resources in order to respond to a fast-growing market. Unmanned systems are among the pillars of our growth strategy and we plan to become a market leader in this field.”

The set-up of a brand-new facility, with a workforce of 60 people, and the unveiling of a more capable aircraft, are two major milestones in the development of the AWHERO, a programme that has been growing significantly since originally launched in 2012 under a joint venture with Sistemi Dinamici SpA, which was acquired by Leonardo in 2016.

Compared to the original variant, the pre-production 200kg-class aircraft features an optimised airframe and aerodynamics, new fuel system, new composite tail rotor drive shaft and a new liquid-cooled rotary engine. It conducted its 10-minute maiden flight near Rome in December. The second pre-production AWHERO is expected to join trials and take to the air in the next few months in advance of Italian military certification, which is expected by the end of 2019.

AWHERO is a state-of-the-art RUAS which brings together Leonardo's experience in helicopters and system integration. Its design responds to current and future market requirements for increasingly extended operational capabilities through the use of unmanned systems. Developed for land and naval operations, with maximum versatility in mind, AWHERO is the perfect solution in terms of cost and capability for tasks such as maritime and border surveillance, homeland security, pipeline and powerline monitoring, environmental monitoring, supporting search and rescue (SAR) missions and disaster relief and damage assessment.

With a maximum endurance in excess of six hours, the AWHERO is designed with high reliability and low operating costs, incorporating multiple redundancy of all main critical systems for maximum safety and multiple payload capacity to meet a range of missions. Payload may include a radar (such as the Leonardo GABBIANO TS UltraLight), electro-optics, electronic support measures (ESM), LiDAR and advanced communication systems, among others. For maritime roles, the aircraft integrates a deck sensor and autopilot modes specifically developed to allow fully automatic landing and take-off from naval vessels. As operators look at future land and maritime joint manned-unmanned airborne missions, AWHERO will be fully integrated into those scenarios.

In 2019 the new AWHERO will be used for maritime surveillance capability demonstrations on ships within the framework of the OCEAN 2020 initiative contracted to Leonardo, which will lead a team of 42 prime European aerospace companies. OCEAN 2020 is a European Defence Fund strategic research programme for naval surveillance technology and maritime safety. AWHERO is also being thoroughly assessed by various potential customers worldwide.

Leonardo possesses a wide range of technologies in the UAS sector with its FALCO and Sky-Y fixed-wing aircraft and SW-4 SOLO RUAS/OPH (Optionally Piloted) and AWHERO helicopters, as well as small drones for surveillance. The company is also a partner in major European UAS programmes such as the MALE RPAS and nEUROn. Leonardo’s RUAS platforms have extensively demonstrated their capabilities under Italian and UK MoD contracts and during international exercises: they are able to respond to future manned-unmanned teaming capability requirements.

Leonardo’s unmanned helicopter portfolio also includes the SW-4 SOLO which, like the AWHERO, benefits from the company’s systems integration expertise and airborne sensors, which make its unmanned systems more competitive in the fast-growing market. The opening of the new facility in Pisa also expands the presence of Leonardo in Tuscany, where the company designs and manufactures a wide range of products in the defence, security and space fields, with more than 1,800 employees located at three facilities.

AWHERO will enter a rigorous testing and evaluation programme later this year. (Image: Leonardo)

- Mönch Publications - Latest Issues -

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