First student flight test campaign at Leonardo Helicopters

Since 2005, the “Flight Testing” graduate course offers enrolled students a one-of-a-kind experience by requiring the planning, execution and reporting on a real flight test (FT) experience, carried out by putting into practice typical methodologies and applicable certification standards. The course is an elective within the Aeronautical Engineering MSc curriculum offered at Politecnico di Milano, providing fundamental concepts and skills on the flight testing process, with a program that closely adheres to the typical content of an introductory course offered in a professional flight testing school. The typical way to provide the FT experience in the past involved ultralight or General Aviation fixed-wing aircraft.

In the current academic year, a unique opportunity was seized thanks to the enthusiastic willingness of the Flight Test Department of Leonardo Helicopters, a world-leading rotorcraft manufacturer, which allowed eight of the students attending the course to perform their activity by flying on two company-owned helicopters of the Leonardo Helicopters’ flight line in Cascina Costa, Italy. On May 20, 2021, at the end of a preparatory path lasted several weeks and involving seminars and the familiarization with the rotorcraft models (performance, limitations, normal and emergency procedures), the students, grouped in pairs, performed a total of eight flight mission lasting about one hour each.

In each mission, students flew on the left in the cockpit of the helicopters flown by Leonardo’s test pilots (TP) and under the supervision of lead Flight Test Engineers (FTE). Particularly, four missions were accomplished on the AW109 GrandNew flown by TP Cpt. Andrea Scopa with Leaf FTE Andrea Castelli and the other four on the AW139 flown by TP Cpt. Antonio Baldussi with Leaf FTE Walter Moiola. Each student team explored the trim and controllability characteristics of each helicopter model in the full speed range, as well as the VFR and IFR longitudinal static stability requirements. The helicopters were equipped with a full Flight Test Instrumentation (FTI) suite for digital data acquisition, according to the measurement requirements set for each test topic.

The students planned their flight mission and then flew their plan, acting as the responsible FTE. This implies that they actually conducted the test activity, by requiring the relevant flight conditions and FT techniques at each test point and by gathering the relevant data in the cockpit. Following the flight experience, students are required to perform a thorough analysis of the data acquired by the FTI and deliver a complete Flight Test Report to be presented orally as the final step in the course evaluation.

Needless to say, this opportunity brought an extraordinary added value to Politecnico di Milano’s “Flight Testing” course, by offering the chance of participating in a complex FT activity in close collaboration with world-class professionals and an exciting hands-on experience on board high-performance rotorcraft leading the market. A big thanks for this wonderful achievement goes to Leonardo Helicopters FT department: flight line personnel, FTEs and TPs, as well as the company leaders: the Head of Flight Operations Cpt. Giuseppe Afruni, the Head of test pilots Cpt. Marco Feller, and Luca Medici from the Leonardo Helicopter’s Engineering Dep., who all strongly believed and supported this project in spite of its complexity and of the difficulties related to the general pandemic situation.

More to come, stay tuned!

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