EADS North America and Eurocopter handed over the 200th UH-72A light utility helicopter (LUH) to the U.S. Army on March 1, marking it as the first purpose-built model built for the Army National Guard’s Security and Support (S&S) battalions.
The UH-72A Lakota is the replacement aircraft for both the venerable UH-1 “Huey” and aging OH-58, and has been going to both active and guard units since first delivery in 2006. The current program calls for a total of 345 Lakotas to be delivered to the Army through 2015, of which 99 will be the S&S battalion variant. An additional five Lakotas have already been delivered to the U.S. Navy’s NAVAIR test facility at NAS Patuxent River.
All of the 99 S&S aircraft are designated for Army National Guard units. This includes 83 purpose-built aircraft plus 16 retrofitted from earlier UH-72As. The last of the 16 is now being retrofitted at the American Eurocopter production facility in Columbus, Miss.
The keys and logbook for the first production model was presented to Brig. Gen. Daniel Nelan, operational support assistant to the director, Army National Guard. The aircraft has been assigned to A Company, 3/140th S&S battalion of the California National Guard, based in Stockton, Calif., commanded by Capt. John Allen and Lt. Col. William Breeze, battalion commander.
The S&S version of the AH-72A is the most technologically advanced version of the Lakota produced to date, with the major difference between it and the standard UH-72A being the mission equipment package (MEP). The S&S version will be used primarily for emergency response to natural or man-made crises, such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks. The 16 retrofitted S&S UH-72As will be going to guard units in eight southern/southwestern states, plus one aircraft to San Juan, Puerto Rico. A total of 38 National Guard sites will ultimately been equipped with the S&S-configured UH-72s.
The MEP was developed to Homeland Security standards, according to Guy Hicks, EADS senior vice president, Government Relations. A key element in the MEP will be the capability to communicate with civilian agencies such as law enforcement and EMS operators in emergency situations. As a direct result of “lessons learned” from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, both the Active Army and National Guard have started equipping emergency response helicopters with radios that will allow cross-band communication with those agencies. The S&S battalion UH-72As will be equipped with two Wulfsberg RT-5000 AM/FM multi-band radios with bands that can operate from 29.7 to 960 MHz. The aircraft are also equipped with Skyquest VRDV-4010 digital video recorders, a Sierra Nevada Tactilink-Eagle data communication system capable of providing real time video downlinks to ground stations, a Luminator LS16 searchlight producing 30 million candlepower and slaved to the electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) L-3 Wescam MX15i FLIR system, and a GPS moving map capable of directing the helicopter to a specific street address. The L-3 Wescam EO/IR system has a range of up to five miles.
To control the MEP, the cockpit has two 10.4-inch auxiliary screens using soft-touch screen displays similar to those on personal handheld devices such as iPads and iPhones. The screens are also from Skyquest and display the moving maps and EO/IR imagery. The Wescam FLIR system has a laser pointer with auto tracking/geo-pointing capabilities. The aircraft also has an observer position in the aft cabin. The observer console contains a 15-inch touchscreen display with a mounted keyboard plus an EO/IR and searchlight controller. A Goodrich hoist is available as an option.
The S&S battalion UH-72As are produced side-by-side with the standard models in the Columbus facility. Approximately five aircraft are rolled out the door each month, although production could easily go up to around 60 per year, according to Sean O’Keefe, EADS North America chairman and CEO. The UH-72A, a militarized version of the EC145, is one of five aircraft involved in the Army’s upcoming Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) competition. If it wins the competition, production could go up to 90 aircraft per year through adjustment of resources in the current facility, he said.
EADS is also looking elsewhere for customers. O’Keefe said that EADS is currently in discussions with militaries and paramilitaries in southeast Asia and the Middle East regarding purchase of the UH-72A.
Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, the Army’s Program Executive Officer for Aviation, told reporters at the handover ceremony that a major consideration in the AAS program will be the cost of the aircraft, and that the more aircraft produced, the lower the cost. The Army is therefore a willing advisor to foreign militaries regarding the attributes of the aircraft. The Army is planning a series of technical demonstration flights by competitors in the AAS program, initially planned to begin in April. Those demonstrations are now awaiting authorization from the Secretary of Defense, he said.
Crosby also lauded the workers at the EADS North America facility, noting that the UH-72A program consistently stayed on-time and on-budget.
O’Keefe noted that the UH-72A program was the only program of its size to remain 100 percent on-time and budget, despite the speed at which it was inaugurated. The new LUH program was initiated in early 2004, with contracts to the five competitors released in July 2005. EADS and the UH-72A were announced as the winners on June 30, 2006 and the first aircraft was delivered that December under an initial production contract, despite protests by the losing bidders. Full production rate was approved in August 2007. EADS delivered the 100th Lakota in March 2010 and the 200th two years later.