Knowing the AW-109 Light Utility Helicopter of the Philippine Navy and Air Force

The Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy's Naval Air Wing unit currently get a variety of military assets that are basically useful for their respective military operations, varying to their respective mission requirements.

And here comes a single military platform that are currently in active use on these two service branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines which is a product of planning, materialization, and procurement process made at the first few years of implementing the Revised AFP Modernization Program or R.A. 10349, in which it is serving actively at the time this article has published.

AW-109 Power, Philippine Navy, Philippine Air Force, Leonardo Helicopters
Here are the AW-109 Power helicopters serving the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The sources of the images are from AW-109 (PN), an image of the AW-109 for PAF, and the Background image.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines started its Revised Modernization Program way back seven years ago in 2013, renewing its resolve in improving military capabilities that was originally started by the 1995 AFP Modernization Program or R.A. 7898 in which it bought multiple assets which are now active in service across all three branches of the Armed Forces, with a different purpose and military objectives in mind.

With that came the procurement of different rotary assets that both the Philippine Navy and Air Force seeks for their operations, with the Philippine Army doing catching up with its Army Aviation Regiment in which it came with different assets to buy and personnel to train - with this discussion deserving its own article entry later on as development slowly unfolds in the unit.

It has already known across defense-related content about these assets which already comprises the inventory of the two branches within the Armed Forces of the Philippines wherein it played a role in multiple missions since its inception, ranging from a City-wide siege in the country's southernmost island up to a maritime pursuit operation that cost the lives of dangerous bandits riding in a fast craft.

While this platform are fully active in utilization throughout its serviceable life, it is just worthy to be discussed here as it comprises the Horizon 1 procurement of the Revised AFP Modernization Program, alongside assets that have already have discussed here such as the Del Pilar-class Offshore Patrol Vessels, Korean Aerospace Industries FA-50PH, and weaponry-related upgrades made for the M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers.

In this topic, we will cover the developments taken that have made this procurement possible, as well as the manufacturer that made these assets and also the specifications of the platforms provided along with some concerns concerning it's after-sales support which includes some matters that involve arms restriction of the munitions on board. 

A VIP AW109 GrandNew Utility Helicopter which shares
design attributes with the likes of the Philippine Navy/
Air Force AW-109E Power Helicopters.
 Image Source.

Leonardo helicopters are a subsidiary unit of the Leonardo S.P.A. in which is an Italian-based multinational conglomerate that has specializations in providing defense, aerospace, and securities-related assets and material with its customers varying from civilian ones down to various militaries of the world that have sought their products into their respective military and defense needs.

The current structure of Leonardo as a company came because of various mergers, acquisitions, and structural changes that defines such current organizational setup, with the company's history traced back to 1948 with the foundation of Finmecannica as an Italian mechanical engineering holding company under the state-owned Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI), a public holding company that helped recovered Italy's post-war industries.

Leonardo's Helicopter Division has started long before Finmecannica the company has formed in 1948 when Giovanni Agusta in Italy build his first biplane in 1907 and Westland Aircraft in the United Kingdom started producing warplanes intended for the Royal Air Force in 1915 that the First World War has fought between European powers, Italy and Britain included. It was then that both companies went into a collaboration, forming what was then AgustaWestland helicopters before it has incorporated into Leonardo itself, knowing today as Leonardo Helicopters.

The then Westland Aircraft's Yeovil plant in Southwestern England still serves its purpose today as it produced assets such as Leonardo's AW-159 Wildcat Helicopters, of which two assets have delivered to the Philippine Navy as part of its Antisubmarine Helicopter Acquisition Project, adding up the roster of Leonardo-produced military assets within the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

To take a note, Leonardo is also providing other forms of military weaponry indirectly to the Armed Forces of the Philippines like the 76mm Oto Melara Cannons that are onboard its primary warships like the Jose Rizal-class Frigates and Del Pilar-class Offshore Patrol Vessels, with the former also fitted with Leonardo's NA-25X Fire Control Radar that goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned cannon.

Agusta A-109A Hirundo N59P.
(C) pointnshoot, Flickr.

Agusta started designing the Agusta A-109A Helicopter originally as a single-engine commercial helicopter in the late 1960s, although the firm has it redesigned in 1969 into the dual-engine configuration that is currently in-place today, as this original first-production variant comes with two Allison 250C14 turboshaft engines that enabled its first maiden flight on August 4, 1971.

After its maiden flight, two more prototypes followed the first one as they conduct more test before the first production copies has produced in 1975, whereby it took Agusta four (4) more years to fully testing the design of the helicopter and eventually received the Visual Flight Rules or VFR certification from the United States Federal Aviation Administration that enable Agusta to market it, under the name "Hirundo".

Agusta Helicopters then, in 1976, started production and delivery of its first production units to the customers who ordered from them, which during that time it has competed against the Bell 206 from United States’ Bell Helicopters, as the A109 marketed its greater speed, twin engine redundancy, and extra seating or basically‌, it has more capabilities than the market leader as it played a factor for its initial success with Agusta creating newer variants of the helicopter through time.

Since then, they produce a lot of different variants of the AW-109 Utility Helicopters, as well as having multiple types of helicopters that came and derived from the AW-109 helicopter design as the result of its tremendous success, known as the AW family of helicopters whereby other types like the AgustaWestland AW-119 Koala, which first flew in 1995 and entered production and service in several users of the helicopter in 2000.

From 1971 to the time we publish this article, it represented the 51 years of continuous development and operations of the AW-109 utility helicopters, showing its overall reliability with its design and capability even with the changes taking place within the organization, as both Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland merged in 2016 and eventually renamed into what we know today as the Leonardo Helicopters within the same year.

AW-109E Power, Philippine Air Force, AgustaWestland, Leonardo Helicopters
Both the Philippine Navy and Air Force has the AW-109E Power variant of the helicopter, itself having many variations and iterations of helicopter composition and design.
Via Wikimedia Commons.

Through the years, the AW-109 Helicopter's core design undertook multiple iterations and variations, as it comes with different helicopter engine configurations and specifications of differing capabilities in terms of capacity structure, making it difficult for a normal search engine checker to determine the differing details on the AW-109 specifications, unless an idea for a specific variant comes into mind.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, in this case, comes with the AW-109E Power variant of the helicopter, as its design comes with multipurpose features in mind, such as for search and rescue, law enforcement, air ambulance, or as a Light Attack Helicopter for the Philippine Air Force that it played a role as a close air support platform during the 2017 Marawi conflict.

Other variants of the AW-109 Helicopter include the latest GrandNew variant, itself coming with more improved performance and capabilities like having newer onboard avionics, enabling a single-pilot IFR and a full digital avionics system architecture for the pilots to use, along with other features that are complying to next generation requirements such as having Dual GPS / SBAS (Satellite Based Augmentation System) receivers, dual Air Data System (ADS), dual Attitude and Heading Reference System (AHRS), dual VOR / ILS system, radar altimeter, ADF, and DME components, along with Mode S Transponder with ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast) capabilities. 

Another variant to take note is the Agusta A-109A Helicopter variant, the first production model under the AW-109 family, a twin-engine utility helicopter whereby 80 units have produced by Agusta helicopters, forerunner to the modern-day Leonardo Helicopters, from 1976 when it has introduced to the market until upgraded variants gets introduced through the years.

Since the first flight of the Agusta A-109A Utility Helicopter comes other variants from the Agusta A-109B to Agusta A-109D, with the AW-109E Power being the first one when Agusta and Westland became single entity, with succeeding ones like the AW-109LUH and AW-109M being the militarized version of the model, with the Philippine Air Force categorize their AW-109E Power Helicopters as the AW-109AH.

AW-109E Power Philippine Air Force, AW-109E Specifications, AW-109E Philippine Navy, Leonardo Helicopters
The leading features as part of the AW 109E Power's specifications.
Image Source.

The specifications of the AW-109 Utility Helicopter by then Agusta Helicopters, now continuously in development by Leonardo Helicopters, comes with varying differences between different variations and iterations that the Italian helicopter manufacturer released through time, so it might be more appropriate to focus on a single type of variant of the helicopter, which in this case is the AW-109E Power.

From the data provided by Leonardo Helicopters (see the image above), the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of the AW-109E Power utility helicopter comes at around 3,000 kilograms, which is a little heavier than the 2,400kg MTOW for the Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm Bo-105 Light Helicopter that the Philippine Navy once had and the Philippine Army’s Aviation ‘Hiraya’ Regiment currently has to–date.

The maximum takeoff weight, or MTOW, also correlates with the helicopter’s engines, which comes with either 2 x Pratt & Whitney Canada PW206C (Take-Off: 2 x 640 shaft horsepower) or 2 x Turbomeca Arrius 2K1 (Take-Off: 2 x 670 shaft horsepower), as opposed to other helicopters serving the Philippine Armed Forces like the Philippine Air Force’s new mainstay Combat Utility Helicopter the S-70i Black Hawk Helicopters that comes with two T700-GE701D turboshaft engines equipped with C controls, that has around 1,700/1,800 to 2,000 shaft horsepower, carrying the Black Hawk with a gross weight of 9,979 kilograms.

Another helicopter to check for reference, as opposed to the AW-109 Helicopters, is the Philippine Air Force’s Sikorsky’s AUH-76 Helicopters, which is the armed utility transport version of the Sikorsky S-76 helicopters now serving as an air ambulance to the air service branch. The gross weight of the S-76 helicopter comes at around 5,306 kilograms while having an empty weight of 3,177 kilograms, powered by 2x Turbomeca Arriel 2S2 turboshaft with 922 shaft horsepower. 

Other specifications of the AW-109E Power helicopters are that its range at a maximum comes at 932 kilometers, while having at least four (4) hours and forty-five (45) minutes maximum endurance, noted that the metrics comes with only 221 US gallons of fuel, no reserves, and at the altitude of 5,000 feet. In comparison, the Sikorsky S-76 helicopters come with a maximum range of 761 kilometers, with its fuel capacity in its main tanks being at 281 US gallons. 

So this means that while the S-76 helicopters have a more powerful engine and heavier weight, the AW-109 helicopters have an edge in terms of its maximum range upon basing it on just main fuel tanks of the helicopters mentioned. Take note that the AUH-76 Helicopters of the Philippine Air Force served as its mainstay attack helicopter with rockets and machine guns installed onboard, long before AW-109 helicopters and eventually the dedicated ones such as the T-129 ATAK Helicopters and AH-1 helicopters arrived.

PAF AW-109E Power, Philippine Air Force, Philippine Navy, PN AW-109E Power, BRP Davao Del Sur, Tarlac-class Landing Platform Dock
Philippine Air Force’s AW-109E Power Light Attack Helicopter lands on the landing pad of the BRP Davao del Sur (LD-602).
Image Source.

At the turn of the decade through the 2010s, the Armed Forces of the Philippines saw an opportunity to Modernize under the Revised AFP Modernization Program or R.A. 10349, in which it considers as a continuation of the processes made under the original R.A. 7898 or the AFP Modernization Act of 1995. One of those opportunities is for both the Philippine Navy and Air Force to buy these brand-new AW-109E Power for their use.

For the Philippine Navy, this is the case of providing the Naval Air Group (now Naval Air Wing) the rotary aviation capabilities that are far more from what its Bo-105 Helicopters have during that time, plus the trend within the naval branch regarding the ever-increasing number of warships that have dedicated hangar and landing pad onboard, such as the Del Pilar-class Offshore Patrol Vessels and the Tarlac-class Landing Platform Docks.

The Philippine Air Force, in this case, sees the AW-109E Power Helicopters as a light attack helicopter platform, whereby it may consider as a spiritual successor to the Sikorsky AUH-76 Helicopters that has the same role as these platforms before getting its current configuration as air ambulances, while comes as an interim platform for what will be more sophisticated and fully designed and dedicated attack helicopters that the air service branch now have in its inventory, such as the AH-1S helicopters from Jordan and the Turkish-made T-129 ‘ATAK’ Helicopters.

With more aviation platforms coming on its way into the hands of the units and branches within the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the AW-109E Power will be something that recognizes as one of the primary Horizon 1 acquisitions that help propel the modernization efforts further into what it is today, as aside from the mentioned dedicated attack helicopters that the Philippine Air Force now has, the Philippine Navy also have at least a pair of AW-159 Anti-submarine helicopters in its inventory.

As more and more air assets are in-need by both the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy in their operations, especially regarding helicopters, it remains to be seen whether the leadership of both service branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines needs to add more AW-109 Helicopters, although the existing ones are clearly doing its functions as intended with its mission requirements, with the prospects that it will serve more actively within the service for many years to come.

(c) 2023 PDA.

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