Italian ‘Apache’ – the AW249, tests its performance in warm weather

Currently, the first prototype of the innovative Leonardo AW249 NEES, with the serial number CSX82097, is undergoing hot weather testing in Palma del Río, near Cordoba, Spain. 

This aircraft is the second prototype of the “Fenice”, an Italian moniker meaning “Phoenix”. This name for the AW249 was divulged by General Andrea Di Stasio, Commander of the Italian Army Aviation.

The Fenice first took to the skies from the Leonardo Helicopters plant in Vergiate on March 19, 2023. This followed the maiden flight of the first prototype, showcasing its primer paint and experimental serial CSX82069, in August 2022. 

No significant changes

Photos provided by one of our readers reveal no significant changes to the prototype. The only noteworthy feature seems to be the addition of a genuine TTS electro-optical/PNVS (Pilot Night Vision System) and what appears to be rectangular devices mounted on the stub wings, likely used to simulate other elements for testing purposes.  

Lines and red tapes found on the fuselage and tail boom are likely to be used for attaching strain sensors. These enable the monitoring of stress on the airframe during flight. 

The AW249 will replace the AW129 Mangusta

The AW249 is set to remain in Spain for a month before returning to Italy. This helicopter is projected to replace the AW129 Mangusta, a stalwart of the Italian Army since the 1990s.

Italian 'Apache' - the AW249, tests its performance in warm weather
Photo credit: The Aviationist

The Mangusta has undergone numerous upgrades, culminating in the current AH-129D variant. However, the Army plans to retire the AH-129 in 2025. 

Like Apache, but not exactly

Previously, we discussed the design of the “Fenice”. While some draw comparisons between the AW249 and the AH-64 Apache, they share little in common beyond the tandem cockpit configuration. The AW249 represents a significant departure from its predecessor, the AW129.

This new model incorporates lessons from the Mangusta and features a new airframe, transmission, engines, and avionics. The tandem cockpit configuration is a feature that even predates the Apache, dating back to the AH-1 Cobra. 

Delving into the engine specifications

The AW249 is powered by a pair of GE Aviation CT7-8E6 (T700) turboshaft engines, each boasting a power output of 2,500hp (1,860kW). It also incorporates dynamic components from the AW149 transport helicopter.

Italian 'Apache' - the AW249, tests its performance in warm weather
Photo credit: The Aviationist

Designed with meticulous precision, the AW249 boasts a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) that falls within the impressive range of 7,500 – 8,000 kg. This capability is a staggering double that of its predecessor, the AW129. Not only does it carry this immense weight, but it also exhibits a remarkable versatility in its operational environments. It can seamlessly operate in both extreme hot-and-high conditions and harsh cold weather, showcasing its robust adaptability.

The AW249 doesn’t stop impressing with just its adaptability and weight capacity. It also boasts a cruising speed of a swift 140kts, allowing for rapid deployment and swift maneuvering. Coupled with this speed is a commendable three-hour endurance, ensuring it can sustain prolonged operations.

Moreover, the AW249 has been thoughtfully designed with ship-borne operations as a key consideration. This facet of its design speaks to its tactical versatility, further enhancing its value in diverse operational scenarios.


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