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Flying high with Leonardo helicopters

Published on: 1 Jan 2020

For hundreds of years the sea has been a major strategic channel for the transport of raw materials, goods and the exploitation of energy resources. Therefore, the defence of maritime interests has become a priority for many nations.

In this context, helicopters have proven to be one of the most effective assets to provide maritime security, thanks to their flexibility and ability to respond to the requirements of the various theatres of operation

Leonardo Helicopter


Helicopters for naval applications frequently operate in particularly difficult and challenging environments; hence the need to design and build them as flexible multi-role platforms capable of performing a wide range of missions from coastal patrol to search and rescue (SAR), humanitarian supportcounter-terrorism and piracyanti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. They must be able to operate day and night in all weather conditions. 

There are two main types of use for helicopters on naval missions: multirole and specialised. A significant portion of the global fleet is land-based and employed for patrol, surveillance and SAR missions. Other helicopters embark upon ships, often deployed at sea for long periods. This requires the presence on board of all the spare parts and the personnel to keep them operational. These helicopters must be able to operate safely from a ship’s flight deck, even in sea state 6 and in all weather conditions, having a sufficient payload for the mission sensors, defensive aids, weaponry and fuel needed to carry out the mission.


Leonardo has a long and proud tradition designing and building naval helicopters and today offers a complete range of products with customised integrated systems that can meet the most demanding mission requirements.

Leonardo’s naval tradition goes back a long way, including historical models such as the Dragonfly and the Whirlwind, operational in the early 1950s, and the Wasp and the Wessex, which entered service in the 1960s. The AB47AB204 and AB212 are also part of the history of helicopters that operated at sea. The Lynx and Sea King followed these. 

Today the AW159AW101 and NH90 have entered service, designed specifically for naval operations from ships, while other commercial models, such as the AW109AW139 and AW189, are experiencing growing success for a range of maritime roles.


Utmost flexibility and adaptability to meet specific customer requirements: These characteristics make the AW101 one of the most successful medium/heavy helicopters on the market today. With over 220 units ordered so far by several countries, including Italy, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Denmark, Canada, Japan and Norway, the AW101, produced by Leonardo’s Helicopter Division, is a three-engine helicopter in the class of 16 tonnes, capable of carrying out a wide range of military and commercial missions.

Over the years, the AW101 has modified and updated its configuration according to the demands and needs of the military market, especially for versions dedicated to Personnel Recovery, Special Operations, troop and tactical transport, and MedEvac (Medical Evacuation)/CasEvac (Casualty Evacuation) missions, and the government market, especially in the configuration dedicated to the transportation of Heads of State.

In Canada and Portugal, the AW101 has demonstrated excellent performance in the undertaking of SAR (Search and Rescue) and CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) missions, even under conditions so extreme that no other helicopter could carry them out. The Italian Air Force has acquired an updated version of the AW101 for SAR missions, while the Merlins, the denomination of the British AW101s, have successfully accomplished CSAR missions in Iraq and Afghanistan

Leonardo is currently recruiting talented professionals with a strong background in the design, development and implementation of military communications architectures as part of their Land & Naval Electronic Warfare initiative.

You can find out more about Leonardo and the current Land & Naval Electronics career opportunities and check out some of the current vacancies on E&T Jobs here .