Technology & Digital Innovation

Once Upon A Flight

An historical Alfa Romeo Avio drawing exposed in our offices in Pomigliano

On February 19, 2016, we delivered to the Italian Air Armaments and Airworthiness Directorate (ARMAEREO) a piece of Italian aviation history from our archives: the AR.318. It's a 600 shp turboprop engine, characterized by a design philosophy based on simplicity and compactness, and which dates from the 70s.
Indeed, during those years, the need arose to develop a sturdy and low-cost turboprop engine, and so a consortium of companies started working on the idea for a new engine. This is an engine with a long history, as its origin dates at least ten years prior to its official birth. Indeed, Alfa Romeo, together with Rolls-Royce, MTU and Fiat, formed the “European Engine Consortium” with the goal of designing and developing a 300-700 kW turboprop that could be an effective alternative to the US one. The Consortium led to the creation of two alternatives, but it was dissolved in 1974, and Rolls-Royce and Alfa Romeo were the only two companies left to develop the project, which in the meantime was geared toward the so-called the RB.318: a single-shaft turboprop with a single front reduction gearbox.
However, in 1980 Rolls-Royce handed over complete responsibility for the development to Alfa and the turboprop was thus called the AR.318. This transformation led to the involvement of other Italian agencies in creating a few new components for the engine: a new planetary gearbox with magnesium alloy housing, a new electric starter and a new electronic fuel control unit. The engine prototype—a total of 11 were made at the Alfa Romeo Avio plants in Pomigliano D’Arco (NA), purchased by Avio in 1996 and now an integral part of our company—flew for the first time in December 1979, when it took off (installed on a King Air) from the runway of the Naples Capodichino airport with destination Pratica di Mare. There is an AR.318 always on display at the entrance hall of our Pomigliano offices.

The AR.318, despite its apparent simplicity which is dictated by cost and maintenance requirements, used innovative solutions: the impeller of the supersonic centrifugal compressor made from a single titanium piece, turbine impellers with built-in disks and blades in precision cast cobalt superalloys, and turbine inlet temperatures of 1,300 K.

Riccardo Procacci unveils the engine in front of General Langella
During the engine delivery ceremony at the Air Armaments and Airworthiness Directorate in Rome this past February 19, in the presence of our own Riccardo Procacci, Lt. Gen. Francesco Langella, Director of DAAA, highlighted the event's importance:
“The AR.318 engine is a shining example of ingenuity and of a successful collaboration between domestic industry and Defense Administration. It is certain that, in the near future, this collaboration will be strengthened as part of new projects the industry has already planned, and that they could develop additional synergies and shared goals in the interest of Defense and the country, increasing, to the highest levels, the technical abilities and competitiveness of the engine sector, even at international levels.”

Thanks to this engine, we are certain that we contributed—along with ARMAEREO, AMI and the Italian Air Force Experimental Flight Department (RSV)—to writing an important piece of aviation history in our country. This delivery confirms a strong partnership between the parties involved, and has made everyone proud to be a part of this fascinating history.