Helicopter makers and other industry representatives are to gather in Florida's Panhandle tomorrow to review the U.S. Navy's helicopter training program in preparation for proposals to replace it.
The Naval Air Systems Command is hosting an industry day March 9 at Naval Air Station Whiting Field as part of its solicitation of sources interested in providing an "Advanced Helicopter Training System." (It says all attendees of the half-day event must be U.S. citizens.) Interested parties have 30 days from March 9 to respond to the solicitation.
The service plans to issue a formal request for proposal by the end of this calendar year for "the most efficient and economical approach for training" helicopter and V-22 pilots, according to the Jan. 28 solicitation (N00019-16-R-0029).
That would entail replacing the system based on the obsolescent Bell Helicopter TH-57, the Navy's rotary-wing trainer for more than 35 years. As the Navy sees it, that system would include ground instruction, aircraft specific systems training and instruction in full-flight simulators, flight-training devices and aviation-training devices. It wants all those devices compliant with FAA guidelines and based within 10 mi of Whiting Field.
That air station, in Milton near Pensacola, Florida, is the primary site for advanced training of rotary-wing aviators for the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard (including Bell Boeing V-22 pilots).
There are several likely contenders for that work, including Airbus Helicopters, Bell Helicopter and Finmeccanica. Airbus could offer the H125, H135 or H145, or a combination of them. Bell could offer its 407 or the new 505 JetRanger X. Finmeccanica has teamed with Bristow Group, Doss Aviation and Rockwell Collins to propose a system based on the AW119.
The Navy's solicitation left open the door to mixed-fleet proposals, provided one aircraft in the mix is FAA-certificated for single-pilot, instrument-flight-rules operations. The H135 has been certificated for such operations, and the H145 is an IFR. Finmeccanica officials claim the AW119 could be upgraded quickly for IFR certification since it is a derivative of the IFR AW109. IFR certification of the Bell 407 is limited.
The solicitation doesn't specify the use of single- or twin-engine helicopters, but does imply that all proposed aircraft should be FAA-certificated.
The solicitation also states that the aircraft must be "capable of performing full autorotations to the ground repeatedly, without any required post-maneuver, post-flight autorotation specific inspections." Some see that as directed at the UH-72 Lakota, based on the EC145. The Army is using that aircraft as a trainer as well as a utility platform now, but does not include full touchdown autorotations in its training.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy / Ensign Antonio More