November 2017

2017 November

Leonardo Helicopters/PZL-┼Üwidnik W-3 Sokó┼é
First flight: November 16, 1979

The PZL W-3 Sokó┼é (Falcon) is a Polish medium-size, twin-engine, pod-and-boom design, conventionally built, multipurpose helicopter manufactured by WSK PZL-┼Üwidnik (part of Leonardo Helicopters/AgustaWestland since 2010).

The W-3 Sokó┼é was the first helicopter to be fully designed and serial-built in Poland, under close cooperation with the Mil Design Bureau in Moscow. It was an entirely new design started in 1973 by PZL's design team under Stanislaw Kaminski, and while it is externally similar to the Mi-2 derivative, the PZL Kania, it is a larger helicopter with capacity for two crew and 12 passengers.

The W-3 design went through meticulous and painfully detailed ground resonance tests. For the first round of tests, the Russian team of specialists, led by the Mil Chief Designer, Marat Tischenko, had come to WSK-Świdnik to help resolve problems related to the ground resonance tests.

The Sokó┼é made its first flight on November 16, 1979 with Wieslaw L. Mercik at the controls. Here follows Mr. Mercik’s own words of the events leading to the “unexpected” first flight of the “Falcon”, which was performed without an previously approved flight test plan:

The tests were progressing flawlessly. Every consecutive test was performed with less gross weight or, in other words, with greater lift of the main rotor. Step by step, day by day the tests were coming to a successful end and, at the end of the program, Mr. Marat Tischenko came up to me and said: ‘If we came this far, why not take it one step further, and bring the helicopter into hover? What do you think?’ ‘Sure, … why not!’ I responded. He looked into my eyes, looking for confirmation that I’m really ready and said: ‘No higher than 3 meters! Land at first trouble. You’ll have many chances to repeat this hover!’ And just like that, with Mr. Tischenko’s plain gut feeling, backed of course by his knowledge and experience – and trust in the pilot – the first flight of Sokol was officially recorded on November 16th, 1979.

The W-3 has since been then certificated in Poland, Russia, the US and Germany. It was designed to meet the demands of military and civilian aviation of the Soviet Union, which was planned to be its major user. Following a development program, low rate production of the Sokó┼é commenced in 1985. Certification to US FAR Part 29 standards was granted in May 1993, while German certification was granted in December of that year.

The Sokó┼é is offered in a number of variants and is capable of performing a typical range of helicopter missions, including passenger transport, VIP, cargo, EMS, medevac, firefighting and search and rescue. Variants consist of six civil and 14 military versions, with nine operators (countries) worldwide to date, and seven prototypes/proposals not yet adopted by armed forces. The 100th Sokó┼é was completed in June 1996, one of the most recent versions is the W-3PL G┼éuszec.

The Sokó┼é is of conventional pod/boom layout design and construction, with two PZL-10W turboshaft engines, which are based on the PZL-10S – licensed Russian-designed TVD-10B turboprops that power the Polish-built An-28. The W-3 Falcon incorporates a four-bladed fully-articulated main rotor and three-bladed tail rotor, both using composite materials. The main rotor blades have a NACA 23012M aerofoil section. The W-3RM for the Polish Navy has manually-folding main rotor blades. The tailfin is integral with tailboom, including a fixed-incidence horizontal stabilizer.

More than 150 aircraft were built in many different variants. Between 2003 and 2008, four W-3WA helicopters were used by the Independent Air Attack Group of the Polish forces in Iraq.

Description: Pete Noell and Wieslaw Mercik
Photo credits L-R: Cezary p, Radomil, Bardrock, Cezary p

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