Leonardo in Yeovil 149-ready!

28 May 2024

Since the UK Ministry of Defence stated its intentions to replace the current Puma Medium Helicopter fleet in the UK Government's 2021 Defence and Security Industrial Strategy, Leonardo has been standing ready to deliver this vital sovereign New Medium Helicopter capability with its AW149 military helicopter. An essential element of this readiness comes in the form of the work undertaken in the Structural Test Laboratory in Yeovil. Principal Structural Engineer at Leonardo Helicopters UK, Jesse Hiles, explains why.

Leonardo’s UK helicopter facility in Yeovil, the Home of British Helicopters, is the nation’s only onshore end-to-end rotary wing manufacturing site. The site has developed, tested, certified and delivered over 3,300 helicopters worldwide, with more than 50% of the current UK frontline helicopter fleet starting life at the South West base.

At the site’s Structural Test Laboratory, the Leonardo team performs static and fatigue tests in support of development and certification activities. One of the many tests currently underway in the Structural Test Laboratory is a fatigue test on the AW149 tail rotor mast.

The AW149 is Leonardo’s platform for the UK’s New Medium Helicopter requirement. The aircraft is a latest-generation battlefield helicopter, reconfigurable for a wide range of demanding missions in the most severe operational environments.

Leonardo in Yeovil is already responsible for the design and manufacture of transmissions for the AW149. The platform has been long established at the Home of British Helicopters with, as an example, the tail transmission design, manufacture and test taking place in Somerset. The aircraft is already in operation with military customers around the world.

This fatigue test demonstrates how many flying hours this particular part of the AW149 can be used for during its lifetime and what stresses it can be subjected to. Each cycle represents a single ‘extreme’ flight, and these cycles are applied hundreds of thousands of times.

The loads that we apply in the rig and the number of cycles are both much higher than the part would ever see during its lifetime. A test like this shows the high safety margins and provides evidence to support increasing the service life and improving performance, in turn reducing the through-life cost of ownership.

Furthermore, the team of highly skilled engineers in Yeovil is able to take transmissions from initial concept, all the way through to full-scale manufacturing, with testing and certification playing a key role.

Central to this is a cutting-edge piece of test and engineering equipment known as the Flexible Transmission Test Rig (FTTR), which is the result of a multimillion-pound investment by Leonardo in the UK’s manufacturing capabilities.

The FTTR is a unique capability that allows development testing, production testing and through-life tests on the same platform. In addition to repair and overhaul testing. This allows every transmission system manufactured by Leonardo to be tested through the FTTR, simulating start up, ground runs, take-off, cruise flight and landing.

The FTTR is computer-controlled and has been used to test the main gearboxes for the AW159 and AW101, as well as tail and intermediate gearboxes for the AW149 and other helicopters within Leonardo’s civil range.

From December 2022, Leonardo has invested in the manufacture and commissioning of jigs, fixtures, tooling and ground support equipment. Companies from across UK supply chain were used in the manufacture of this new equipment. Furthermore, the company is investing in the establishment in Yeovil of the latest technologies and skills for the manufacture and test of electrical harnesses for the AW149 and other Leonardo products.

At the same time as investing in new equipment, Leonardo continues to train Yeovil engineers to specialise in AW149 production, further bolstering the existing engineering and manufacturing skills and knowledge base.

This continual investment in capability and skills is ensuring that Leonardo in Yeovil is not only 149 ready, but continues to strengthen why it’s called the Home Of British Helicopters.

AW149: Versatility for the most demanding missions

AW149: Versatility for the most demanding missions

Military helicopters must be equipped to perform the most demanding missions in the harshest operating environments. The AW149 is the latest generation medium multi-role battlefield platform that delivers the highly effective and survivable capability required by today’s armed forces, combining advanced technologies, equipment and weapons with unparalleled safety and performance characteristics.