|Airbus Helicopters’ EC145/H145 has proven itself a successful multi-mission competitor in both civil and military applications.
Photo courtesy of Airbus
Uncertain economic and political times like those that persist around the world today have many effects. When it comes to helicopters, such times sharpen the interest of operators—whether commercial firms, military services or public agencies—in acquiring a single platform that can perform a variety of missions.
In the current market, Airbus Helicopters enjoys a powerful advantage with its EC145/H145. But recent orders demonstrate the strengths of Bell Helicopter’s product line, and AgustaWestland puts a twist on the multi-mission platform discussion with the common aspects of its family of medium to super-medium rotorcraft.
| Photo courtesy of Airbus
Airbus’ advantage lies in the success of its EC145 with the U.S. Army. That started with the service’s selection in 2006 of the EC145 as its new utility helicopter, which supplanted the Bell UH-1 that had served the Army in that role for four decades.
America’s Army is the helicopter showcase of the globe. Bell could claim rightfully for decades that the world learned to fly on its helicopters because many pilots of the U.S. military services did just that from the Korean War on. Likewise, the military services of many other nations (through martial alliances and aircraft acquisitions) sent their pilots to the U.S. to learn to fly helicopters—Bell helicopters. After all, when those pilots returned home they very likely would have been flying UH-1s, AH-1s or other Bells.
The Army’s order for what would become more than 300 UH-72A Lakotas began to change that. That change accelerated in late 2014, when the Army said it planned to acquire more than 150 more Lakotas for use as primary helicopters. They would replace the Army’s current trainer, the TH-67 Creek that is derived from the Bell 206.
The trainer selection is as potent a decision as the utility one, since the Air Force’s pilots train on the Creek and Navy, and Marine Corps pilots train on a similar 206 variant, the TH-57 Sea Ranger.
With the pending departure of the Bell OH-58s from the Army aircraft fleet under that service’s Aviation Restructure Initiative, the day soon may come when U.S. military pilots never touch a Bell aircraft. (That is, unless they fly the V-22 tiltrotor, or Bell wins a piece of the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program for circa-2030 vertical-lift aircraft.)
While the Army’s use of the Lakota is a significant marketing aid, the EC145 (now H145) is a successful multi-mission helicopter on its own. That is reflected in its success with law enforcement customers like the Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Department, which this summer took delivery of its second H145. (That department also operates two other effective Airbus multi-role aircraft: AS350B2s.) To fortify its multi-mission aspects, the H145 in May gains EASA certification in a military configuration, with orders from the German armed forces and Thailand’s navy.
This OEM’s 407 proves its value as a multi-mission aircraft again and again.
Bell enhanced this light single line in 2011 after it gained Canadian and U.S. certification of the 407GX. That variant incorporates the Garmin G1000HTM integrated glass flight deck, which is designed to provide pilots with essential flight information at a glance for greater situational awareness, improved operational capability and increased safety.
|Bell has enhanced the 407 product line’s multi-mission value with the GX, GXP and GT variants. Photo courtesy of Bell
Earlier this year, it launched the 407GXP with a 200-aircraft order from Air Methods. The Bell 407GXP can carry 50 lb more payload than the GX, and its improved Rolls-Royce M250 engine is designed to improve hot-and-high performance and fuel efficiency. Its avionics upgrades include a hover performance calculator improvement, and its transmission’s time between overhauls is extended by more than 500 hr, which lowers maintenance costs.
In addition to the air ambulance role, these 407 variants have been sold to operators using them for corporate/VIP purposes. The 407GT is designed for armed missions.
The resilience of Bell’s 412 was made clear July 17 when Japan said it would order 150 military versions of the 412EPI as replacements for its military’s UH-1J utility helicopters.
In partnership with Fuji Heavy Industries, Bell is to start delivering the 412EPIs to Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force in 2021. To offset development costs of the customized military helicopter, Japan plans to sell the aircraft to other nations. Bell President/CEO John Garrison has said that contract creates “the opportunity to export these aircraft into the commercial market in the surrounding area.”
Introduced in 2013, the 412EPI adds to the basic platform the Bell BasiX Pro™ fully integrated glass flight deck. Those avionics are designed for IFR, Category-A and JAR-OPS3 compliant operations. The aircraft features the BLR Strake and FastFin system (which modifies the tailboom to optimize airflow and improve handling, safety and lift) as well as Pratt & Whitney’s PT6T-9 Twin-Pac engines (which provide 15 percent more horsepower than the standard 412 engines). The 412’s missions range from military and law enforcement types to offshore, utility and firefighting roles. In April, the Canadian Coast Guard ordered seven 412EPIs for maritime security and fisheries patrol work.
This Anglo-Italian manufacturer bolstered its family concept of multi-mission helicopters this year when it gained EASA and FAA certification of its super-medium twin AW189 and the light intermediate twin AW169. The aircraft share design characteristics, including a common cockpit design philosophy.
The AW139 carved a new niche in the market for offshore oil and gas support services, which are missions the AW169 and AW189 will perform. But like their predecessor, the two newer aircraft should be well suited to a host of missions. These should range from executive or corporate transport and air ambulance to law enforcement and utility roles, as well as a variety of parapublic, government, military and naval missions.
Need To Know:
The H145’s work for the U.S. Army gives Airbus a key marketing advantage.
Bell’s 407 and 412 are resilient competitors.
AgustaWestland’s “family” concept could help it win AW139, AW169 and AW189 orders
The Next Big Test?
With the U.S. Army’s choice of Airbus Helicopters’ Lakota as its training helicopter (replacing Bell’s TH-67), the next big milestone for multi-mission military rotorcraft may be the U.S. Air Force’s decision on a new utility helicopter.
That service was slated to convene an “industry day” Aug. 26 on a program to replace its Bell UH-1Ns, with one-on-one sessions to follow Aug. 27 at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
USAF uses the Hueys for nuclear missile field support and continuity-of-government and VIP missions in the metropolitan Washington area. They also support Air Force operations in the Pacific, Europe and Africa.
But the UH-1Ns don’t meet mission requirements for range, speed, all-weather performance and payload. Some of its components are obsolete and the small USAF fleet size (about 60 aircraft) make the Hueys a challenge to maintain.
The Air Force plans to fly the Hueys into the mid-2020s but wants a replacement acquisition strategy and a program office in place in fiscal 2016. President Obama’s defense budget submission for fiscal 2016 includes $2 billion for a UH-1N replacement program.