ROME – Italy’s Leonardo has dropped plans to develop a new, single-engine helicopter and opted instead to buy a small Swiss firm that has already built one.

The Italian defense giant announced on Tuesday it was purchasing Kopter Group AG, which has developed the SH09, a five- to eight-seater helicopter built with carbon composite materials which first flew in 2014.

A clean-sheet design developed by a small group of engineers, the SH09 maximizes pilot view as well as interior space with a maximum takeoff weight of 2,850 kg, while its Honeywell HTS 900 engine provides an 800km range and 140 knots top speed.

With the purchase, which is worth $185 million plus future pay-outs linked to the success of the program, Leonardo said it was saving itself the resources it had planned to use designing its own new helicopter in the category.

“This acquisition will replace the planned investment aimed at the development of a new single engine helicopter,” the firm said.

“Kopter’s SH09, a new single engine helicopter, is a perfect fit for Leonardo’s state of the art product range offering opportunities for future technological developments,” it added.

The Swiss company’s skills would also be used to develop new technologies like hybrid and electrical propulsion, Leonardo said.

A company spokesman said the SH09 was viewed as a civil program in the short term. "The priority is the civil market but in the future, we will see – a military application is not excluded. However for now our AW119 is our military product in the light, three-ton, single-engine class," he said.

The purchase is an unusual step for the Italian firm, which has hitherto designed its own helicopters such as the AW139 and AW101, formerly under the AgustaWestland brand, which was retired before the company changed its name from Finmeccanica to Leonardo in 2016.

“Within the Helicopter Division of Leonardo, Kopter will act as an autonomous legal entity and competence centre working in coordination with us,” Leonardo said.