It is difficult to write of a visit to this part of the world without thinking about food and fashion. Milan, however, is the home of Italian helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland. Not that I didn’t have a change to try out the fine city restaurants as the manufacture’s reps knew all the best places for pasta lunches and antipasto platters. But I was there to talk to the service and support group and if possible to take an AW139 for a ride.
The first part of the journey was a red eye flight with Lufthansa from Lagos to Frankfurt and then, after clearing EU passport control, I reversed direction and crossed the Alps over Switzerland to Northern Italy. The morning was clear so I managed to get a few good pictures of the snow covered Alps as we passed west of the Dolomites and east of Lake Como before our descent into Milano.
Our approach into Milan gave me a great view of the surrounding Italian landscape and the Italian Alps to the north. I was met by an AugustaWestland driver and he whisked me off to the head office buried deep inside a grandiose forest of hedges and old trees. After the meet and greet and exchange of business cards we moved over to the main factory building.
I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside the factory, but the tour was very impressive. The Italians know how to run a factory manufacturing line with a mixture of professionalism and relaxed controls. The line was a collection of every different configuration imaginable from VIP to SAR.
The best part for me, of course, was the chance to get behind the controls of a factory new AW139. Test Pilot Antonio gave me the choice of seats, left or right, but since there is really no difference I took the left seat.
Antonio fired the AW139 up with a simple checklist sequence and then moved it over from beside the hanger to the heliport. He showed me the trim assist controls for the collective and the cyclic and I brought her up into a hover. The helicopter is so powerful and the lift off was so smooth that it felt like we were floating in a mill pond. I pushed her into the departure configuration and she flew off with an excessive climb and a slightly left kilter. I gave her a little right tail-rotor pedal and pushed forward harder on the stick. I felt like I was going to run out of forward cyclic control before she started gaining airspeed as quickly as she wanted to climb.
Antonio had me level off at 1000 feet initially and we cruised over the roof tops of Milan as we headed toward the lakes and foot hills of the mountains. The Terrain Alert kept barking at me as the terrain got higher and finally Antonio told me to bring her up to 1500 feet.
From there we cruised around the lakes, over the sail boats, past the castles and down the winding river back to the AugustaWestland heliport. I slowed down early and managed to come in right over the [H] at about 35 feet. Then I slowly and gently let her sink to touchdown. Only on touchdown did Antonio gave my cyclic a slight forward nudge to allow the wheels to roll on. The procedure was to wheel her on with forward cyclic and a touch of brakes. Cool.
When Nigel got a chance to fly he did things a little different for the landing. He came is lower and hotter and in an attempt to stop over the [H] he pulled the nose up higher and higher until we ended up in a very nose-high tail-low configuration. The test pilot later explained that the earlier helicopters, such as the one we were flying, experienced a high angle of attack from an aft CofG problem. The later AW139s have resolved the aft CofG issues with a longer nose section with more avionics in the front allowing for a more level quick stop.
Nigel’s flight allowed me to check out the Gold Plated seat belt buckles and take a few pictures of our round the lakes flight.
After the flight we got to go for a great lunch down by the river Fiume Ticino.
And after a visit to the training facility we had an after work beer and a little antipasto snack.
Get the picture?
Last evening in Milano.
|Agusta Westland Factory Visit Milano Italy|