At the ‘Home of British Helicopters’ in Yeovil, Leonardo has begun establishing its production line for the latest generation battlefield helicopter, the AW149 helicopter. This latest multi-million pound investment by the company in its onshore facilities makes Leonardo’s bid for the UK’s New Medium Helicopter (NMH) requirement even more competitive by ensuring the company is ready to deliver the AW149 into service by 2025, if selected by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD).
The Ministry of Defence’s stated goal is to have the NMH in service by 2025. Should Leonardo be successful in winning the competition, its existing helicopter design and engineering site in Yeovil will have the infrastructure and skills readily available to deliver to this ambitious timescale.
The NMH competition is proceeding at pace, with Leonardo submitting its response to the UK MOD Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) in June. The company believes that it has the strongest commercial and social value offering in the competition with a platform that meets the capability requirements of the UK Armed Forces.
Gian Piero Cutillo, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters, said: “We have already trained engineers in Yeovil to specialise in AW149 production. We have now also made the necessary infrastructure investment to be ready for the localised build of AW149s, leveraging commonalities with the AW189 that we have previously produced on-site in Yeovil.
“Proactively refreshing these capabilities provides further evidence of our strong commitment to deliver the best onshore offer for the NMH programme. If the AW149 is chosen by the UK MOD, our immediately-available capability would ensure that our production ramp-up, risk reduction, cost savings and aircraft lead-time are second-to-none.”
Adam Clarke, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters UK, said: “From the outset of this competition, Leonardo has committed to the establishment of an AW149 production line at our Yeovil site. This investment into the line is our company’s ‘declaration of readiness’ to support the UK MOD in its requirement to have the NMH in-service in 2025. Furthermore, this investment further de-risks our programme and highlights our willingness to support the UK customer now, should Leonardo be successful with its bid.”
Leonardo in Yeovil currently supports the in-service AW149 through the manufacture of the dynamics and transmission components that are on-board the aircraft. The company will also be drawing on its experience in the build of the AW189, which shares a common airframe baseline with the AW149. During 2014-18, ten AW189 helicopters were built in Yeovil for the UK's Search and Rescue service operated by Bristow Helicopters. In addition to having the same external footprint, the AW149 and AW189 share common engines, drivetrain, blades, Digital Automatic Flight Control Systems, and Flight Management System. Therefore, as Leonardo begins to work on the first UK-manufactured AW149, it will be able to draw on its existing engineering and manufacturing skills and knowledge base.
Earlier preparatory work by Leonardo for its NMH bid has included skill sharing between the company’s helicopter facilities in the UK and Italy. Teams in Italy have welcomed their colleagues from Yeovil to teach them in learning the engineering skills and techniques used to build the latest-generation AW149 battlefield helicopter.