During the fall season, the Venice lagoon could turn into an eldritch movie set. A thick marine fog enfolds the Palladian villas and the Renaissance charm of this world-renowned gem overlooking the Adriatic Sea. La Serenissima, as Venice was nicknamed until just a couple of centuries ago, was a key hub for trade; it was also the harbor where pioneers and seafarers of ancient global markets, like Marco Polo, sailed from to reach the furthest lands of the East.
Marco Polo is also the name of the Venice civil airport, and just a short distance away stands the Leonardo Elicotteri facility. Here in Tessera, Italy, just 15 km from the lagoon, stands the industrial area where the NH90 is assembled and tested, fueled by more than 300 employees.
The NH90 is the multi-role helicopter made by the international consortium NH Industries, which includes Leonardo Elicotteri as well as Airbus Helicopters and Fokker. The facility in Tessera is one of Leonardo Elicotteri’s eight industrial sites in all of Italy (the company also runs various other facilities around the world).
It is at these facilities where the most famous helicopters in the world are born, such as the AW159 and AW101, or the latest generation AW139 and AW169.
Claudio Stefanelli, a lead technical services specialist at Avio Aero, a GE Aviation business, has more than 30 years of experience in the industry. He has amounted more than 1,730 flight hours as a helicopter flight test engineer, becoming especially familiar with the GE T700 family of engines along the way. Claudio regularly visits the Tessera facility and knows the people who work there very well.
There are a number of collaborations and preparations carried out for the NH90 helicopters that are assembled at the Leonardo Elicotteri location in Tessera. “In fact, along with the whole team of Brindisi technicians, we also work at the military bases of the customer end user, or at airports around the world,” explained Claudio.
Indeed, the NH90 version selected by the Italian Army and Navy, as well as various foreign armed forces, are equipped with two renowned T700/T6E1 turboshaft engines. This model is part of the T700/CT7 family of helicopter engines, developed by GE Aviation in the 1960’s, which came into service in 1978 on the legendary Black Hawk, chosen by the US Army and Navy as well as other manufacturers, such as Bell Helicopter, Sikorsky, Boeing and, of course, Leonardo Elicotteri.
Avio Aero, in addition to taking part in the development and design of the engine alongside GE since the 1960’s, is responsible for the design and production of the accessory gearbox and the low-pressure turbine, holding 60% responsibility for the engines destined for the Italian Government.
“Our assembly line includes six stages of operation, at the end of which we run ground and flight tests,” explains Gabriele Straulino, a production manager at Leonardo Elicotteri’s facility in Tessera, Italy. “Ground tests are especially important for customer delivery, whereas flight tests focus on performance. This is the moment where the presence of Avio Aero is key: when your technicians and engineers are here for testing, this is when we come to realize the degree of power that such a compact engine can express. A true concentration of technology.”
Claudio echoes the sentiment, as he quickly lists the engine’s impressive features: “The T700/T6E1 is an engine that generates a power of 2500shp. At the Tessera facility, we provide technical support: for instance, the introduction of Service Bulletins, assistance to Leonardo Helicopters during the helicopter’s first ground runs, and so on. Additionally, our support is of key importance during the helicopter’s acceptance stage by the Armed Forces, which is precisely why we’re service partners during the engine’s operating life.”
“Our helicopter’s performance is strictly tied to the reliability of the T700/T6E1 that Avio Aero provides us,” concludes Straulino. “We’ve been working together for a very long time, and this allows us to enjoy an efficient relationship with the personnel, who come here to provide us with technical support.”
Listening to both Caludio and Gabriele, it is clear that this decades-long collaboration continues to grow stronger.