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Airbus Helicopters is pitching its H135 light twin as the lowest risk solution to the U.S. Navy’s helicopter trainer replacement program.
If chosen, the H135 would provide the Navy with a twin-engine training aircraft that has a modern glass cockpit, four-axis autopilot, integrated flight management system, and is certified for instrument flight rules (IFR) operation. While such a twin-engine platform would clearly not be cheap, Airbus believes the aircraft’s maturity and competitive lifecycle costs will prove appealing to the Navy following a request for proposals that prioritizes technical capability over price.
As detailed in the RFP issued Jan. 28, the Navy is looking for a fleet of 130 helicopters for initial rotary-wing training to replace its aging fleet of Bell TH-57 Sea Rangers, which were originally fielded in the 1970s.
The TH-57 currently serves to bridge Navy rotary-wing pilots from initial flight training in the fixed-wing Beechcraft T-6B to the Navy’s fleet rotary-wing aircraft, the Sikorsky MH-60 Seahawk.
“Where we see an advanced value proposition with an advance trainer like the H135 is an opportunity to kind of keep that steady build-up of skills . . . by moving from the TH-6 and maintaining the glass cockpit, [having an ] introduction to an advanced autopilot and the twin engine skills that translate to the fleet aircraft,” said Scott Tumpak, head of military programs in North America for Airbus.
Airbus believes the Navy is “engine agnostic” in regards to a preference between single and twin. Competitors may point to the cost of a twin, but Airbus is touting potential cost-saving in the ability to “download” hours from from initial training in the fleet aircraft. The manufacturer argues that gaining initial experience in a twin-engine aircraft with a glass cockpit will save hours in a considerably more expensive to operate MH-60.
“What we’ve seen on Lakota with the U.S. Army and other places around the world is the benefit of training like you fight,” said Tumpak. “And the U.S. inventory, whether the Army or the Navy, the [fleet] aircraft are all twin engine, and it makes sense to have a twin-engine trainer.”
One of the Navy’s key requirements for the new trainer is that it must be instrument flight rules (IFR)-capable. This is an area where Airbus believes it has an advantage over Leonardo’s proposed TH-119 (based on the AW119), which is yet to receive IFR certification.
“We obviously have an extremely mature aircraft in terms of IFR with zero development,” said Tumpak.
The Navy has established the trainer replacement program, known officially as the Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS), as a “best value” competition.