Do you like airplanes?
What about helicopters?
If you like both, and I’m sure you know where this is going, for the low, low price of only about 5 to 30 million dollars you can buy an AW609. Well, more realistically, you can buy a spot on the waiting list with 70-some people like the billionaire mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg.
The AW609, which was previously known as the BA609, is AugustaWestland’s tilt-rotor executive transport. The development program hit some speed bumps, which culminated in AugustaWestland buying Bell Helicopter out of the joint venture last November. At that point they renamed the aircraft AW609 and moved on full speed ahead. They now project an early 2016-ish date for certification.
The AW609 is, like the V-22 Osprey I suspect, massively complex and development has stretched on for more than a decade. Considering the costs of owning ordinary private jets and helicopters, I’m sure it will be costly to own and maintain. Why would someone like Bloomberg want such a thing?
Well, honestly, because it is awesome and because he can.
If I had a billion dollars, you can bet I’d be doing the same thing.
Something I really like about mayor Bloomberg, which I suspect says something about why he would want an AW609, is that he is a rotor-head and is fanatical about the convenience of helicopter flying. According to a recent New York Times piece, He already owns and pilots an Augusta A109 and several other aircraft. Why not add one more.
Why would anybody want a machine that couples the complexity of a helicopter with about half the speed of a new Citation Jet?
Flexibility. In the NYT piece referenced above, there is a story about Mayor Bloomberg defeating delays at LaGuardia by flying his helicopter to Albany. Once he got to Albany, he could put down in virtually any flat field or on a helipad.
The problem is the limitations of helicopters. An A109 like the Mr. Bloomberg flies has a maximum range of just over 500 NM and a top speed of about 150 knots. Anything more and you’ll need to land and refuel or switch to the jet.
Why not just stick with a jet? Sometimes a jet is overkill and they usually require a mile of runway or more. That restricts your available landing areas a bit.
What if you combined the two? Well, you’ll get the AW609. It’s not a huge improvement over the helicopter range-wise, as it only adds about 250 NM to the range, but you can cover ground almost twice as fast as an A109. Once you get where you’re going, you can land on shorter runways, with the aircraft configured for a short landing, or vertically anywhere you’d land a helicopter. Well, anywhere you’d land a 16,000 pound helicopter.
So, what can Michael Bloomberg teach us about buying aircraft?
Helicopters are cool, buy the craziest one you can afford. In all seriousness, cost doesn’t matter as long as you can afford it and it serves the mission you need it to serve. For Bloomberg, he is a billionaire who needs to get to and from places in and around the city. He can certainly afford it and this will only cut time off his commute.
Regarding the AW609 specifically, it looks good. Based on demo flights, it seems to perform pretty well without making a ton of noise. Compare that to some helicopters, a blackhawk comes to mind, and AugustaWestland already has a winner.
For dessert, here is a nicely cinematic look at the AW609. It looks like it is from one of the airshow demo flights, but for all I know, all those people watching are employees.