In a ceremony yesterday at its U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia, Leonardo Helicopters delivered to the U.S. Navy the first TH-73A training helicopter. The model is intended to replace the Bell TH-57 Sea Ranger, which has been in service for more than half a century.
Before an audience of elected officials, military personnel, Leonardo executives, and employees, vice-admiral Kenneth Whitesell, chief of Naval Air Forces, accepted the first of the type on behalf of the military from William Hunt, CEO of Leonardo's U.S. helicopter division. “This aircraft is going to be the centerpiece for our advanced helicopter training system,” he noted, describing the TH-73A as “providing the most capable and advanced training platform to prepare student aviators to combat and defeat our adversaries.”
The TH-73A is based on the commercial AW119Kx and is fully FAA-approved for single-engined IFR flight. Power comes from a Pratt & Whitney PT6B-37A turboshaft, and the helicopter is equipped with dual safety/hydraulic systems and Genesys Aerosystems digital avionics.
Leonardo won the competition to provide an off-the-shelf helicopter to answer the U.S. Navy’s needs for an undergraduate Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) and was awarded an initial $177 million contract for 32 aircraft in January 2020. A second batch of 36 was ordered in November, valued at $171 million. The Navy has a total requirement for 130, with deliveries to be completed during 2024. In addition to the helicopters, Leonardo is providing simulators, logistics support, maintenance and flight line support.
“This delivery signifies a new era for Naval Aviation training," said Rear Admiral Robert Westendorff, Chief of Naval Aviation Training. “By using current cockpit technologies and a new training curriculum, the TH-73A will improve pilot training and skills, and ensure rotary-wing aviators are produced more efficiently at a higher quality and are ready to meet the fleet’s challenges.”
Whitesell added that: “The cutting-edge technology and advanced avionics within the Advanced Helicopter Training System will enable a more seamless transition from the training aircraft to fleet aircraft, this, in turn, allows more focus on high-end warfighting development and training.”
Currently, 14 helicopters are in the assembly process in Philadelphia. Delivery of these initial helicopters will allow the Navy to begin training a cadre of instructors and validating a new syllabus prior to the first students flying the aircraft. The TH-73As will operate with Training Air Wing Five (TAW-5) from NAS Whiting Field South Base, near Milton, Florida. There they will supplant the aging Bell TH-57 Sea Ranger, a Model 206-based helicopter that has been in use since 1968 in three versions. The “sundown” of the Sea Ranger will begin in 2022, and the last is due to retire in 2025.
TAW-5 is responsible for training all rotary-wing students for the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as some from overseas air arms. The wing has an annual throughput of several hundred Naval Aviators. At the naval air station’s adjoining North Base fixed-wing students train on the Beechcraft T-6B.
Initially, the TH-73As will be housed and serviced in a temporary hangar pending the construction of a new maintenance facility. Leonardo is building a 100,000-sq ft hangar in Whiting Aviation Park, across the runway from the naval air station. In December, Leonardo intends to break ground for the project, and construction is expected to commence in 2023.
In describing the company's culture, Clyde Woltman, president of Leonardo's U.S. division, noted, “Without leadership who have consistently listened to and supported us every step of the way, this milestone first delivery—18 months after contract award during a global pandemic and with a 90-day protest-driven stop-work order—could not have happened.”