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Leonardo has received a $176.5 million contract for the production of the first batch of 32 TH-73A helicopters in support of the Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) programme.

Under the Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) programme, the U.S. Navy has selected Leonardo’s TH-119 single-engine IFR helicopter to replace the ageing and increasingly difficult to maintain fleet of TH-57B/C RANGERs. The latter have served for decades as a training platform for the U.S. Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard for helicopter and tiltrotor pilots.

On January 13, the Naval Air Systems Command awarded a $176.5 million contract to Leonardo for the production of the first batch of 32 TH-73A helicopters. The contract also includes initial spares, peculiar support equipment, flyaway kits, hoists, sling loads, data in excess of Commercial Form Fit Function (FFF) / Operations Maintenance Instructional Training (OMIT) Data, as well as ancillary instructor pilot & maintenance personnel training. According to US DoD, the contract activities are expected to be completed in October 2021.

The ATHS programme’s requirement is for 130 helicopters, while the overall contract value is $648.1 million. Helicopter deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2020 and continue through 2024.

“Today marks a great team effort to procure and deliver a helicopter trainer for the next generation of helicopter and tilt-rotor 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,” he added.

The obsolete Sea Ranger helicopter lacks advanced cockpit avionics and the older engine is underpowered, while the platform fleet is getting difficult to maintain due to rising costs and down time. In the meantime, the training needs are increasing, with the U.S. Navy forecasting an annual requirement for more than 600 rotary-wing and tiltrotor pilots, and this figure is expected to increase through at least 2040. Helicopter and tiltrotor pilots already make up more than 50% of all naval aviators.

Initially, five proposals were submitted for the tender the most appealing of which were the Airbus Helicopters, Bell Textron and Leonardo respectively with the H-135, 407GXi and TH-119 customised platforms. According to NAVAIR, “the new firm-fixed-price TH-73A contract was awarded (to Leonardo) on a best-value trade-off basis” with a base (which contract was awarded on January 13) and three one-year options. Under the single firm-fixed-price programme, the U.S. Navy wants to procure another 31 helicopters in 2021, 31 in 2022 and the last 15 in 2023.

The new helicopter will meet advanced rotary wing and intermediate tilt-rotor training requirements for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard through 2050. The TH-73A will be manufactured in U.S., with assembly taking place, through FAA Airworthiness certification, in the contractor’s FAA Part 21 facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“On the cusp of celebrating nearly 40 years of operating in Philadelphia, Leonardo is thrilled the U.S. Navy has selected our TH119-based offer and us as a local and long-term partner. We are proud to be a core contributor to the future of U.S. defence,” said Alessandro Profumo, Chief Executive Officer of Leonardo. “Today’s brilliant news is 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,” added Gian Piero Cutillo, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters.

“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) Programme Manager at NAVAIR, overseeing the AHTS programme. “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 (NAS) Whiting Field in Milton, Florida,” he added.

Based on the proven commercially available AW119 platform in service in 40 countries worldwide, and the only one manufactured in the U.S. of the ATHS programme contenders, the TH-119 helicopter received IFR supplemental type certification by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in July 2019. Thanks to it, the TH-119 is certified to operate in actual instrument conditions (IMC), resulting in more available training days that limit “VFR only” aircraft and add to overall time to train. The Leonardo rotary-wing platform is a full-spectrum training helicopter, meaning that with a single variant configuration the U.S. Navy can accomplish fundamental training flights like sliding landings, hovering, and full autorotation (without offloading any of them to simulation) equally as well as advanced training flights including NVG, instruments, navigation, tactics, hoist, external cargo, and search and rescue.

The TH-119’s dual-display Genesys Aerosystems advanced glass cockpit allows instruction from either pilot seat with full IFR capabilities including flight director and 3-axis full autopilot. Its unique 180-degree adjustable observer seat offers student pilots full view of the cockpit providing a better learning environment even while riding as a passenger. According to Leonardo, the TH-119 combines exceptional power margins, thanks to its popular and reliable 1,000 hp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-B engine, the same one that powers the Navy T-6B primary trainer. With the durability of a cocoon-type metal airframe capable to withstand the daily grind of training and to allow airframe repairs to be conducted on-site, the Leonardo helicopter features reinforced skids with removable shoes standing up countless touchdown repetitions. The “hot” pressure refuelling allows the fuel tank to be safely refilled without shutting the engine down which reduces turnaround time compared to other aircraft.

“Our plan since day one has been to offer the U.S. Navy the training capabilities they asked for, without compromise. We are honoured to deliver on that promise, build the new fleet in Philadelphia and maintain it from Milton, Florida,” said William Hunt, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters Philadelphia.

In addition its Philadelphia facility, Leonardo will construct a large facility in Whiting Aviation Park adjacent to Naval Air Station Field and equip it as a Part 145 Repair station providing 24/7 service including spare parts, warranty processing and renewal, technical and product engineering, component and airframe repair.

Among the worldwide customers, in February 2019, Israel’s Air Force announced the selection of the AW119 as its trainer helicopter. In late last month, AgustaWestland Philadelphia was awarded a $38.4 million firm-fixed-price Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract from the U.S. Army for seven new AW119Kx aircraft to be delivered to the Israeli MoD. In addition, the contract includes pilot and maintainer training, initial spares package, tools and ground support equipment, engine spares and the development of training aid devices. Work is being performed in Leonardo’s U.S. facility with an estimated completion date of September 2020.

Luca Peruzzi