Airbus Helicopters delivered the 400th UH-72 Lakota twin to the U.S. Army in late August at its assembly plant in Columbus, Miss., and fielded at Fort Rucker, Ala. The aircraft is the 160th Lakota fielded at the Army's primary rotary wing training facility. Today, half of all new U.S. Army aviators train on the UH-72 Lakota. Airbus will deliver nine more UH-72s to the Army this year.
“The stand up of the [training] fleet at Fort Rucker since 2014 has exceeded our expectations,” said Scott Tumpak, senior director of the Lakota program at Airbus Helicopters. “We're already seeing the benefits to the Army of transitioning to a go-to-war aircraft that is twin engine and has a glass cockpit compared to the single-engine analog, legacy trainer. Students come out of the initial training more advanced in their transition to the Army's go-to-war aircraft” such as the UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache and CH-47 Chinook, Tumpak said.
Airbus signed a new five-year support contract with the Army last December, renewable annually for five years, to support the UH-72 fleet that Tumpak said should deliver new efficiencies. “It takes advantage of the fact that the Lakota is based on a commercial, FAA-certified aircraft [the EC135] where there are strong opportunities for the Army to gain cost benefits compared to their other aircraft which are military certified [mil cert]. The contract is also designed to provide maximum support for the Fort Rucker training fleet,” he said. The contract is mainly parts support provided at the flight hour rate with some additional activities such as material purchases, pilot and maintenance training, and engineering services. Airbus has trained 1,000 active Army and National Guard pilots at its facility in Grand Prairie, Texas. Tumpak said Airbus primarily supports the contract through a large parts warehouse adjacent to DFW Airport that facilitates rapid national distribution not only to Fort Rucker but to the remainder of the UH-72 fleet, which is widely distributed among National Guard sites. Airbus also provides the Army with a local parts stock at Fort Rucker.
Airbus's current Army contract expires in February next year after an aggregate of 412 delivered aircraft. There is funding in the FY 2016-17 federal budget for another 44 aircraft.
“Throughout the course of the program [since 2006] there have been a lot of modifications to the aircraft,” Tumpak noted. “Some of that has been compliance with FAA standards, some of that is additional mission-identified equipment. That has been a significant part of the program. The best example is the SFS [Security Forces Squadron] configuration operated by the Guard that introduces a significant reconnaissance and surveillance capability with a [Wescam] MX15 [multi-spectral imaging system] with an operator station in the rear cabin that has been used for homeland security and drug interdiction missions on the southern [U.S.] border.
Airbus provides much of this modification work at the Columbus plant, which performs Lakota final assembly, flight line prep, paint, warehouse, administrative offices, flight operations and flight-test engineering. The Army also uses third-party providers.