Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 34 seconds.
Leonardo Helicopters has beat out Airbus and incumbent Bell for a $176 million deal to begin building the U.S. Navy’s new training helicopter, the TH-73A.
The Navy announced Jan. 13 it chose Leonardo’s TH-119, based on the commercial AW119, over the Airbus H135 and Bell 407GXi to replace the aging TH-57 Sea Rangers on which all Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard rotorcraft pilots are trained.
“On the cusp of celebrating nearly 40 years of operating in Philadelphia, Leonardo is thrilled the U.S. Navy has selected our TH-119-based offer and us as a local and long term partner,” Leonardo chief executive Alessandro Profumo said.
Gian Piero Cutillo, managing director of Leonardo Helicopters, called the Navy’s decision “brilliant news” and “a ringing endorsement for our solutions setting new industry standards for training. We are committed to working with the U.S. Navy to ensure future pilots meet all evolving service requirements.”
The new helicopter will meet advanced rotary-wing and intermediate tiltrotor training requirements for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard through 2050. The TH-73A will be manufactured in the U.S. with assembly taking place, through Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airworthiness certification, in the contractor’s FAA part 21 facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
An initial $176.5 million outlay covers the first 32 aircraft — which the Navy will call the TH-73A — plus spare parts, support equipment, flyaway kits, hoists, sling loads, maintenance and instructional data and training for maintenance personnel, according to the Defense Department contract announcement. The total contract value is $648.1 million for the procurement of 130 aircraft. Helicopter deliveries are scheduled to begin in calendar year 2020 and continue through calendar year 2024.
“Today marks a great team effort to procure and deliver a helicopter trainer for the next generation of helicopter and tiltrotor pilots for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard,” said James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. “I’m proud of the aggressive work the team did to leverage the commercial industrial base to get this capability to the warfighters, and our nation, at the best value to the taxpayer. This effort is key to ensure the readiness of our Naval Aviators for decades to come.”
A singular Navy requirement was for any new trainer to be instrument flight rules (IFR) certified, meaning the FAA must clear the aircraft through bad weather, where visibility is limited, using only onboard avionics and navigation instruments. The TH-119 in July became the first single-engine helicopter in decades to earn that certification. The 407GXi followed as the second recently IFR-certified single engine aircraft in August, whereas the twin-engine H135 already was IFR-certified.
The helicopter itself is one part of an overarching helicopter training enhancement program called the Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS).
“The new Leonardo TH-73A helicopters are the cornerstone of AHTS, which is the planned replacement to address the capability and capacity gaps of the current aging TH-57 Sea Ranger helicopter training platform,” said Capt. Todd St. Laurent, Naval Undergraduate Flight Training Systems (PMA-273) program manager. “The TH-73A will provide a modern helicopter training platform that will serve rotary and tiltrotor training requirements into the foreseeable future. These new helicopters will ensure the Navy has capacity to train several hundred aviation students per year at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Florida.” PMA-273, at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, oversees AHTS.