ROME — Bell and Leonardo are to work together on tiltrotor helicopters, 13 years after they broke off a partnership on what was then nascent technology.

The U.S. and Italian firms signed a memorandum of understanding to “evaluate cooperation opportunities in the tiltrotor technology domain,” they said in a statement Thursday.

That cooperation will get underway in earnest with a NATO Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability concept study, where Leonardo will take the lead on a tiltrotor architecture proposal with Textron’s Bell in support, the firms said.

The agreement follows a long partnership between the firms on the BA609 tiltrotor program, which ended in 2011 when Bell pulled out, leaving Leonardo — then known as Finmeccanica — to push on with the effort.

Bell went on to win the U.S. Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program in 2022 with its V-280 tiltrotor, while Leonardo has kept faith with the BA609, now known as the AW609, albeit moving slowly with development. Officials have cited the lack of government development cash as a reason.

With a target of 2025 for certification for its tiltrotor, Leonardo officials were less than enthusiastic when the Italian Air Force encouraged them to team with Lockheed Martin and Boeing on their Defiant-X coaxial rotor helicopter.

When the Defiant was beaten out in the FLRAA competition by Bell’s tiltrotor, Leonardo officials felt vindicated in sticking with tiltrotor technology.

”Now we are the only European company with a tiltrotor close to certification, primarily for civil application but which can be converted to military applications,” said Leonardo CEO Roberto Cingolani on Thursday.

Cingolani was speaking during a presentation of Leonardo’s preliminary results for 2023, which showed it delivered 185 helicopters during the year, up from 149 in 2022. Electronics orders were up by 15.9%, buoyed by orders from the U.K. for new MK2 radars for its Eurofighters.

Leonardo’s U.S. unit DRS saw revenues rise 4.9% to $2.8 billion. Overall group revenue rose 3.9% to €15.3 billion (U.S. $16.5 billion).

At the presentation, Cingolani said talks were back on with German electronics firm Hensoldt about a joint venture. Leonardo purchased a 25.1% stake in the firm in 2021, but declined to participate in a capital increase in December and saw its stake in the firm drop to 22.8%, prompting suggestions its interest in the tie-up was fading.

”We didn’t participate in the capital increase because the German government and the previous top management of Hensoldt didn’t say clearly whether the possibility of a Leonardo-Hensoldt alliance or joint venture was still open,” said Cingolani.

“A few weeks ago the new CEO of Hensoldt came to Rome, and we had a long and constructive discussion and he told me they are reconsidering a joint venture,” Cingolani added. “Now we are studying what we can do together.”

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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