Leonardo Completes AW101 High Altitude Testing

Norwegian Leonardo AW101
Norwegian Leonardo AW101 (Photo: Leonardo)

LONDON – Leonardo helicopters has completed high altitude testing of the AW101 helicopter. The test program was completed in Buena Vista and Leadville in Colorado.

The 21 day test schedule was completed in 16 days, thanks to 100% aircraft serviceability and the hard work of Leonardo’s teams. The testing paves the way for certification of the AW101 Performance Improvement Programme. The modifications raise the engine power, and allows the main gear box to have the torque limit raised to 117%.

Kristian Daines, AW101 Performance Improvement Programme Manager at Leonardo Helicopters UK, said, “The testing ran to plan from day one, an astounding success for the teams in Colorado and Yeovil, and a phenomenal execution by all who made it happen.”

The testing demonstrated the aircraft can safely land at high altitudes in the event of an engine failure.

Global Range

Leonardo used a Norwegian AW101-612 All-Weather Search and Rescue (AWSAR) helicopter for the testing. The helicopter was shipped to Baltimore, Maryland, and rebuilt by Leonardo engineers before flying onwards to Colorado. For the return to the UK, the aircraft was flown via Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland.

Nick Wharmby, Test Pilot at Leonardo Helicopters UK, commented, “the aircraft’s inherent capability and equipment fit, coupled with superb work from the FSR team meant the transit went exactly as planned.”

Keeping the Platform Modern

The AW101 Performance Improvement Programme is the latest modification to the AW101 helicopter. The helicopter was originally a joint venture between Augusta of Italy and Westland of England, under the company EH Industries. The helicopter was first called the EH101. When Leonardo acquired AugustaWestland, the aircraft became the AW101. The aircraft first flew in 1987, with deliveries to the Royal Navy in 1997, entering service in 2000. The first Italian example flew in 1999.

The AW101 is used by 12 nations, in a verity of roles, including Search and Rescue, anti-submarine warfare and VIP transport.

The AW101 was supposed to become part of the US Presidential Helicopter with the United States Marine Corps. It would have been called the Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel. However, the project was cancelled in June 2009. Nine helicopters had been built, and testing was underway, however, cost overruns sealed the fate of the aircraft for the project.

Lockheed Martin VH-71 landing at the White House during testing.
Lockheed Martin VH-71 landing at the White House during testing. (By taken by Test and Evaluation Squadron TWO ONE (HX-21), refer to ticket – Original photo submission, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52494535)


It is good to see the capability being increased on what has become a workhorse of the military helicopter arsenal. It will be interesting to see if any orders will come from countries at higher altitudes for the AW101, with its capability enhancement at the higher altitudes.

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