Bouyed by its recent win with Boeing to provide 84 MH-139 medium twin helicopters to the U.S. Air Force, Leonardo is hoping to ride that success as it pitches a modified AW119 single to the U.S. Navy as a replacement for that service’s aging fleet of Bell TH-57 training helicopters that date back to 1985. The Navy is expected to issue a formal request for proposal (RFP) to replace its existing training fleet early next year, and Leonardo and Airbus Helicopters (which is proposing its H135 light twin) are already locked in a spirited public relations competition for the deal for anywhere from 100 to 130 helicopters that are expected to be delivered over the course of three to five years.
Andrew Gappy, Leonardo’s director of government sales and programs, maintains that, compared to a light twin, a single-engine helicopter solution it calls the TH-119, will save the Navy anywhere from $600 million to $1 billion over a 30-year program life cycle that assumes 70,000 flight hours per year. Gappy points out that, as a rule, single-engine helicopters are 25 percent less expensive to operate than comparably sized twins and that the AW119 is powered by the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-37A (1,000 shp takeoff power), an engine with a 4,500-hour TBO.
Gappy points out that 60 percent of the U.S. government training fleet across all services is PT6-powered and that the Navy has a strong bias for primary single-engine training in platforms that include the fixed-wing T-6 and T-45 jet and the current TH-57 helicopter. He also notes that all of the Navy’s current primary helicopter training is over land and that the extra power from the PT6B-37A makes it less likely that students will inadvertently overtorque when learning basic maneuvers such as hovering. “You can have simplicity and cost-effectiveness while continuing to provide a robust training device that can do everything you need it to do. I think single-engine is the way to go,” said Gappy, himself a former U.S. Marine helicopter pilot and a graduate of the U.S. Navy helicopter school.
While the U.S. Army has transitioned to the Airbus Helicopters UH-72A for primary flight training, Gappy said the service’s missions and training requirements are very different. “About 55 percent of naval aviators are rotary-wing. The training they do is vital. It’s always easy to try and compare what they [the Army] does at [its primary rotary wing training facility] at Fort Rucker [Alabama] and what they [the Navy] do at [South Whiting Field] in Pensacola, but I can tell you that the fundamentals are very different. I use this example. When you come out with your wings at South Whiting, within the next six to nine months you could be a copilot at night over water in the middle of the Indian Ocean. When you come out with wings from Fort Rucker you are a trained copilot in a large formation of aircraft. It’s a different mission. The TH-119 will give the Navy everything they want; everything they are going to do with margin to grow without restriction. They like the training they are doing, they just want a better tool to do it with, and the 119 offers that to them,” he said.
Key to giving the Navy a “better tool” is providing a single platform and configuration capable of performing every training mission and maneuver, Gappy said. To that end, Leonardo began working with Genesys Aerosystems 24 months ago to gain STC approval of the Genesys IFR flight deck in the AW119. The system has been powered on, and flight testing will begin by year-end. Gappy doesn’t think that program will be much of a stretch as the Genesys system is already certified in the AW109 Trekker. Gappy said the design of the Genesys system, with its bezel and menu architecture, is particularly attuned for what naval aviators need to transition to larger MH and UH aircraft. He also noted that the instructor in the TH-119 can fly from either seat as the panel layout features dual displays on each side. Unlike in the TH-57, observer students can actually observe, Gappy said, as a seat for them is located directly aft of the center control pedestal offering an unobstructed view of the flight deck. The TH-119 also has the capability for hot pressure refueling while changing out instructors and students.
Leonardo currently builds the AW119 solely in Philadelphia and was responsible for upgrading it from the Ke to the current Kx model there. Gappy said the fact that Leonardo already has a “hot” production line for the helicopter in the U.S. will enable it to make deliveries to the Navy very quickly.