Leonardo thinks its TH-119 single stands an excellent shot of winning the derby to replace the Navy’s ancient fleet of Bell TH-57 Sea Ranger training helicopters. This week Navair—the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command—issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a new fleet of 130 training helicopters. The contract will be awarded early next year. Airbus already has proposed its H135 light twin for the mission, and the U.S. Army already uses Airbus’s UH-72A medium twin as its primary trainer. However, Andrew Gappy, program manager for Leonardo’s TH-119 single, thinks that aircraft’s 25 percent lower cost profile compared to a light twin will provide the Navy with a superior solution while fulfilling the RFP requirements. “I think they [Navair] wrote a pretty good RFP,” Gappy said.
The TH-119 made its first flight in December 2018 and is on track for FAA certification in the coming weeks. The aircraft is based on the AW119 single but features the Genesys Aerosystems glass cockpit similar to that in the new AW109 Trekker light twin. The AW119 is currently manufactured at Leonardo’s Philadelphia facility and more than 300 have been produced.
Gappy said the TH-119 can do 100 percent of the Navy’s current training maneuvers and is an excellent platform for instrument; night-vision-goggle; and full, to-the-ground, autorotation training. He also said the TH-119 could fulfill a key traditional Navy requirement for pressure refueling, enabling hot fueling and crew changes with rotors turning and thus substantially increasing productivity.
Gappy said one reason militaries are considering light twins as trainers is that, until the TH-119, there hasn’t been a “full-spectrum” single-engine helicopter that could fulfill today’s more advanced training requirements. “Having one helicopter that does it all is a really nice feature. Twin-engines have been forced into the training role because there was nothing in the single-engine market that met the IFR capability. I firmly believe we will capture a lot of interest in the single-engine IFR training world,” he said. He also noted, “It is a big risk reducer to have an established [FAA] Part 21 production line to serve a customer.” If the Navy selects the model, Gappy estimates that deliveries would be on the order of 32 aircraft in the first year and then three per month in subsequent years, with flexible deliveries in the contract’s fifth year.