Bell and Leonardo will collaborate on tiltrotor helicopters

ROME — Bell and Leonardo are set to team up on tiltrotor helicopters, 13 years after they broke up on the then-nascent technology.

The US and Italian companies signed a memorandum of understanding to “evaluate cooperation opportunities in the field of tiltrotor technology,” they said in a statement on Thursday.

This collaboration will begin in earnest with a concept study for NATO’s Next Generation Rotorcraft capability, where Leonardo will take the lead on a tiltrotor architecture proposal with Textron’s Bell supporting, the companies said.

The deal follows a long collaboration between the companies on the BA609 tiltrotor program, which ended in 2011 when Bell pulled out, leaving Leonardo – then known as Finmeccanica – to continue the effort.

Bell won the US Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program in 2022 with the V-280 tiltrotor, while Leonardo has kept faith with the BA609, now known as the AW609, although it is moving slowly with development. Officials cited lack of cash from the government as the reason.

With a 2025 target for certification for its tiltrotor, Leonardo officials were less than enthusiastic when the Italian Air Force encouraged them to work with Lockheed Martin and Boeing on the Defiant-X coaxial rotor helicopter.

When the Defiant was defeated in the FLRAA competition by Bell’s tiltrotor, Leonardo officials felt justified in sticking with the tiltrotor technology.

“We are now the only European company with a tiltrotor close to certification, mainly for civil application, but which can be converted to military applications,” Leonardo CEO Roberto Cingolani said on Thursday.

Cingolani was speaking during a presentation of Leonardo’s preliminary results for 2023, which showed it delivered 185 helicopters during the year, up from 149 in 2022. Electronics orders rose 15.9%, up from orders from UK for new MK2 radars for Eurofight.

Leonardo’s US DRS unit grew 4.9% to $2.8 billion. Total group revenue rose 3.9% to €15.3 billion (US$16.5 billion).

At the presentation, Cingolani said talks have restarted with German electronics company Hensoldt about a joint venture. Leonardo bought a 25.1% stake in the company in 2021, but declined to participate in a capital increase in December and saw its stake in the company fall to 22.8%, prompting suggestions that its interest in the deal was waning.

“We did not participate in the capital increase because the German government and Hensoldt’s previous top management did not clearly say whether the possibility of a Leonardo-Hensoldt alliance or joint venture was still open,” Cingolani said.

“A few weeks ago the new CEO of Hensoldt came to Rome and we had a long and constructive discussion and he told me that they are reconsidering a joint venture,” added Cingolani. “Now we are studying what we can do together.”

Tom Kington is Defense News’ Italy correspondent.

Read the original at Defence247.gr

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