RID talks about Leonardo’s new Digital Simulation Lab for helicopters

01 March 2023

We join RID director Pietro Batacchi at Leonardo’s new Digital Simulation Lab for helicopters to find out how new capabilities are developed in virtual environments and then transferred to helicopter models such as the AW169, one of Leonardo’s most successful medium-light helicopters. 

The AW169 is the helicopter that fits in the range between the AW139 and the lighter AW109. Leonardo is focusing strongly on this machine, and the market has responded positively right from the start: 320 units have been ordered, and more than 150 have been delivered to operators in almost 30 countries, while the global fleet has accumulated more than 135,000 hours in flight in all kinds of missions and conditions.

The secret to the success of the AW169 is its flexibility, a result of its open, modular architecture, all-digital cockpit and interface, and great reliability producing a machine that is particularly stable and easy to pilot. Its versatility “by design” allows the AW169 to respond to a variety of needs, permitting real multi-role capabilities, autonomous management of customisation and ongoing growth and development.

The machine is constantly evolving, as demonstrated by the recent software updates introducing new functions such as automated take-off and landing, permitting fully automated performance of these two sequences also in conditions of brown out (zero visibility during take-off, landing and flight near the ground due to dust, earth and sand) and white out (absence of visual references differentiating the sky from the ground in snowy conditions, when snow is raised as the moving rotor approaches the ground): a very important capability of use in government operations as well as search and rescue work. The evolution of the AW169 is partly made possible by the Digital Simulation Lab in Cascina Costa, a simulation environment for development produced by Engineering in collaboration with Customer Support and Training. It is more than an ordinary simulator: the Digital Simulation Lab permits use of the same tool to develop multiple programmes, using software identical to that present aboard the helicopter. This ensures the simulator experience is highly representative of the pilot’s experience in flight, permitting development of innovative functions and support for the process of certification of capabilities also simply through development and validation in a simulated environment. This is a key strong point emphasised by Leonardo.

In the final analysis, a tool such as the Digital Simulation Lab makes it possible to speed up development times and cut costs, working in synergy with the Leonardo team in the UK, thanks to a twin in the Yeovil plant. The aim is to maximise core avionics capabilities in terms of development and integration and to implement those functions that would be difficult to develop directly in flight for reasons of complexity and safety.


Go to “RID talks about Leonardo” former episodes:

Cascina Costa, Leonardo’s centre of excellence for helicopter transmissions

Nerviano, the home of IRST