Contract Protests Push LUH Into Budget Crosshairs
With AgustaWestland joining MD Helicopters in protesting the U.S. Army’s award to EADS North America of a contract to supply up to 352 new Light Utility Helicopters, work on the first of those aircraft has been delayed until Nov. 8 while federal auditors decide whether the Army violated procurement practices.
Army officials had planned to be taking delivery of the first of the new utility helicopters in November.
The delay comes at a difficult time. White House and congressional officials are wrangling over the planned distribution of defense funds in the coming year, and the military services find themselves under growing pressure to defend their budget requests. Key budget committees on Capitol Hill, already skeptical of the Army’s ability to meet its production schedules for the Light Utility Helicopter, have proposed slashing funds for the program from the Fiscal 2007 budget.
Army officials have long warned that any delays in that program or others born of the cancellation of the RAH-66 Comanche would tempt White House and congressional officials to forget their pledge to dedicate Comanche’s $42 billion to the modernization of Army aviation.
MD Helicopters filed a protest of the Army’s selection of the Eurocopter EC145 for the Light Utility Helicopter program on July 14. That was just four days after it was debriefed by Army officials on why its MD902 Explorer was not selected for the $43-million contract for the first batch of aircraft. The U.S. General Accountability Office, which decides protests of federal contract awards, normally takes 100 working days to rule, during which work on the contested contract must stop. The awarding agency can request a waiver to continue work under the protested contract. There is no indication that the Army has done so. The GAO’s decision on MD’s protest is due by Oct. 23.
But a week after MD protested, AgustaWestland, Inc. also protested the award. That company was proposing its AW139 for the Army utility mission. Then, apparently, a week later AgustaWestland, Inc. filed another protest of the award.
The GAO has scheduled decisions on its two protests on Nov. 1 and 8.
Army plans had called for delivery of two Light Utility Helicopters this year and 14 more through Sept. 30, 2007, when Fiscal 2007 ends.
The protests are not the kind of publicity Army officials were hoping for, particularly at this time of year, when federal budgets are determined.
The service has been targeting key lawmakers as part of an effort to avert proposed cuts to its high-priority programs, including those born of Comanche’s cancellation: the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, the Light Utility Helicopter and the Joint Cargo Aircraft. Senate budgeteers have proposed slashing funding for all three.
The main argument of the Army officials in the budget fight is that almost all the service’s aviation assets are being heavily used in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and counter-terror operations around the world.
Their argument is complicated by the fact that senior Army leaders are complaining to congressional leaders that they are facing a $17-billion shortfall in funding to replace, repair or refurbish battle-worn equipment.
That is one reason key members of Congress are pushing the Bush administration to add $10 billion to the Fiscal 2007 defense budget. At the same time, they are asking the Army where it might come up with money to close that gap a bit. Barely launched aircraft programs are vulnerable targets for budget poaching.
One key Senate defense budget subcommittee already has called for cutting more than $100 million from the Light Utility Helicopter program in Fiscal 2007, leaving it with roughly $90 million to buy 16 aircraft.
MILITARY: MD Protest: Army Muddled Pricing
The Army violated terms of its own request for proposals, federal acquisition rules and federal law in selecting EADS North America over MD Helicopters to provide its next-generation of light utility helicopters.
That is the gist of MD’s protest of the June 30 award of a $43-million contract to EADS North America that could lead to $3 billion worth of work providing up to 352 EC145s for domestic Army and National Guard utility missions.
MD charges many things in the protest, foremost among them that Army officials misunderstood the pricing of its bid and concluded it was higher than EADS’ when it was well below it.
“The Army’s pricing analysis was arbitrary and capricious at best, a total sham at worst,” the company wrote in its July 14 protest to the U.S. General Accountability Office.
“If the Army had evaluated in accordance with the RFP terms and conducted a proper price analysis, MD would have received the contract.”
“I was very much unable to figure out how they had priced us to the extent that we were a higher bid than EADS, given that I had taken into my own hands the entire pricing section and had built bottom-up models both on our aircraft pricing and logistics support myself,” said MD interim Chairman Lynn Tilton. “They over-priced us by $800 million, and so instead of being about $300 million in excess of the EADS bid, we were actually $500 million lower than the EADS bid.”
MD also charges the Army overestimated the risks of its bid and discounted those in EADS’ bid. It also used optional requirements incorrectly as “go/no go” criteria to eliminate MD, the company charges.
MD also takes aim at EADS North America in the protest, calling it “a foreign conglomerate with far-reaching and serious unexamined risk issues.”
A ruling on the protest is due Oct. 23.
CIVIL: Air Guard, Coast Guard Pull Crew from Foundering Freighter
|The Cougar Ace foundered with nearly 5,000 vehicles in its holds.
Helicopters from the Alaska Air National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Kodiak, Alaska rescued 23 sailors from a 654-ft. freighter loaded with thousands of new cars after it foundered 230 mi south of the Aleutian Islands.
The rescue took place shortly after 9 p.m. July 24, and involved fixed-wing aircraft as well as the two Air Guard HH-60 Pave Hawks and a Coast Guard H-60 Jayhawk.
At 11:09 p.m. on the previous evening, the captain of the Singapore-flagged car carrier Cougar Ace, en route from Japan to Vancouver, flashed an SOS reporting that his vessel was listing dangerously. A Coast Guard C-130 search-and-rescue plane from Air Station Kodiak was the first aircraft to reach the crippled ship 230 mi out in the North Pacific.
Upon their arrival, personnel aboard the C-130 dropped floatation devices, rafts, and provisions to the Cougar Ace’s crew, which was now almost entirely on its side in 10-ft seas and 30-kt winds.
By the time the C-130 had to return to base to refuel, the Air Guard Pave Hawks and a HC-130 tanker from Anchorage, were on their way to the scene. The Coast Guard Jayhawk had been launched simultaneously from Kodiak.
In spite of heavy rains that reduced visibility to near zero, the helicopters spent hours hoisting sailors aboard one by one. By late Monday evening, the entire ship’s complement had been rescued, with only one crew member suffering any significant injury: a broken leg.
The cause of the accident is still under investigation.
CIVIL: Bristow Teams to Regain U.K. SAR Work
Aberdeen-based Bristow Helicopters is joining a consortium vying to secure a long-term contract for search-and-rescue helicopter services throughout the United Kingdom.
The company lost an interim SAR contract late last year after doing that work for more than 20 years. It has now joined with major helicopter providers FB Heliservices and Serco to pursue a 20-30-year contract to take over SAR services under a new plan to integrate military and civil crews and missions by 2012.
The U.K. government in May said it intended to privatize the services to deliver better value for the taxpayer. Helicopter coverage, currently provided by the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and private operators under contract to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, would be handed over to a single civilian operator in 2012, under current plans.
The contract is expected to run for 20-30 years and will be worth several billion pounds. Bristow currently operates the four coastguard helicopters at Sumburgh, Stornoway, Lee on the Solent, and Portland. It lost that contract to CHC Helicopter when it was re-competed last year. CHC Helicopter will operate search-and-rescue AgustaWestland AB139s and Sikorsky S-92s in roles under a five-year interim contract starting in July 2007.
CIVIL: FAA Warns of Nav Hazard Near Hospitals
The FAA has issued a warning that magnetic resonance imager (MRI) equipment may affect the accuracy of magnetic compasses and slaved gyroscopic systems aboard helicopters operating in the same area with them.
The July 20 Safety Alert for Operators, No. 06-007, advises that emergency medical helicopter crews have experienced large deviations in the accuracy of their heading indicators while near the landing pad of hospitals with MRIs. The problem comes from the powerful magnetic field the MRI generates to scan human tissue for diseases and injury.
The FAA recommends that aircraft operating near medical facilities confirm the accuracy of their heading equipment by cross-checking it with known headings prior to departure and arrival, or disregarding them entirely until clear of the facility.
CIVIL: More EC120s for U.S. Border Patrols
The U.S. Homeland Security Dept. has ordered five more EC120s from American Eurocopter, increasing to 15 the number of the single-engine helicopters being acquired for front-line operations by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. The EC120s will support Customs and Border Protection missions in low-altitude surveillance and security patrol of America’s borders. The first EC120 from the original order of 10 was delivered to Customs and Border Protection July 21 at American Eurocopter’s Columbus, Miss. production facility. The remaining 14 helicopters also will undergo completion and customization at Columbus, and are to be delivered one per month.
MILITARY: YRH-70A Clears Avionics Hurdles, Makes First Flight With Bell, Army Pilots
The U.S. Army/Bell Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter prototype made its first first July 20 after overcoming development, installation and integration problems with its advanced avionics suite.
The YRH-70A took off from Bell XworX in Arlington, Texas and flew multiple handling maneuvers, in a hover both in and out of ground effect, and in a traffic pattern reaching 80 kt and 500 ft altitude, with banks up to 30 deg for a little more than 1.5 hr of flight.
At the controls were a Bell and an Army test pilot. Bell test pilot Jim McCollough and Army pilot CW5 Alan Davis performed pilot and co-pilot operations, which Bell said proved that the ARH’s commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) approach can be successfully applied to military applications. Bell officials said the flight may be the first time an Army pilot helped introduce a prototype to the skies.
ARH program officials originally intended to fly the prototype in March, but then, Army and Bell officials said, they decided to try make the four System Design and Development prototype aircraft more representative of the final production configuration. They came up with a plan to use a 407 as a test bed for integration of the ARH’s Rockweil Collins Common Avionics Architecture System and Bell’s 417 prototype as an engine test bed. The ARH and 417 use a common engine, the Honeywell HTS900.
The revised plan then became to fly the prototype in May. The engine work progressed fairly well; the 417 has flown up to 130 kt. and accumulated more than 20 flight hours. But issues arose with the avionics integration that program officials decided should be resolved.
“Although the first flight date was a few months later than we had talked about it happening,” said Bell CEO Mike Redenbaugh, “there’s been a lot of work done in that time frame to allow us to hold the same end date, which is first unit equipped in September 2008.
MILITARY: U.S. Army Enhances Apache Crew Coordination Training
The U.S. Army in July released a new crew-coordination enhanced training program for AH-64 Apache crews, according to Maj. Gen. Virgil Packett. The general, who succeeded Brig. Gen. E.J. Sinclair June 29 as chief of the service’s Aviation Branch and commanding general of its Aviation Warfighting Center, said the training also will be cascaded down to other aircraft platforms. Lack of crew coordination has been a factor in numerous Apache accidents, including a Feb. 26 one during training in South Korea that killed the two crewmembers.
MILITARY: Saudi Arabia Lines Up Major Helo Orders
Saudi Arabia is on a buying spree, lining up orders for military helicopters from the United States and France as tensions in the Middle East are on the rise.
The Bush administration on July 26 notified Congress that it approved the sale of 24 UH-60L Black Hawks to Saudi Arabia. The deal includes radios, armored vehicles and other military equipment worth more than $6 billion.
(The helicopters, spare parts, communications and other equipment valued at $350 million,)
At the same time, Saudi and French officials were reported to be discussing transactions that would include the purchase of more than 100 Eurocopter helicopters.
The laundry list reportedly includes:
More than 50 NH Industries NH90s, a mix of troop transport and maritime versions;
A dozen Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters;
About 20 AS532s for combat search and rescue;
About 30 AS550 Fennecs, and
A handful of AS565 Panthers for naval combat search and rescue.
France and Saudi Arabia recently signed a defense cooperation agreement that could lead to Saudi purchases of Rafale fighter jet, submarines and Leclerc tanks.
With an international truce having brought a cease fire to the war in Lebanon between Israeli and Hezbolllah and Israel left short of its goal of destroying its foe, some experts say Hezbollah’s perception in the region as the victor may embolden it and other insurgent groups. That thought cannot be comforting for the Saudi royal family.
Boeing Flies Little Bird Unmanned
Boeing flew its Unmanned Little Bird technology demonstrator on June 30 with no safety pilot on board for the first time, at the U.S. Army’s Yuma, Ariz., Proving Ground.
The modified MD530F single-turbine helicopter lifted off from a helipad at 3,000 lb, Boeing said, hovered briefly, and then flew a 20-min. programmed armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission around the proving ground with a 740-lb payload. It returned to the helipad and landed within inches of the planned recovery location.
Prior to the fully unmanned demonstration, the Unmanned Little Bird demonstrator had flown more than 450 hours of engineering flight test time as a rapid prototyping platform, developing and integrating the sensors and systems necessary to create an operational unmanned aerial vehicle.
“Expansion of the flight envelope to include true unmanned flight is a major milestone for the program and opens doors to a wide range of applications for this aircraft,” said Dino Cerchie, Boeing’s Advanced Systems program manager for the Unmanned Little Bird emonstrator and A/MH-6X Little Bird programs.
The Unmanned Little Bird demonstrator mission payload for the first unmanned flight of more than 740 lb didnot include fuel weight. The aircraft lifted off at 3,000 lb, Boeing said, but could have added an additional 550 lb of payload. The A/MH-6X configuration, which is expected to make its first flight shortly, is intended to add an additional 800 lb of payload to the Unmanned Little Bird demonstrator design, giving it even greater flexibility in the field.
MILITARY: Irish Take First Military
AgustaWestland made its first delivery of an AW139 to a military customer last month when it handed over one to the Irish Air Corps at its Vergiate, Italy plant Aug. 10. The Air Corps has ordered four of the medium twin aircraft and taken two options. It plans to use the aircraft for transport of special operation units of the Irish Defence Forces and air ambulance, overland search and rescue and VIP transport missions. The Air Corps is to receive its second helicopter in October.
MILITARY: -U.S. Army’s UH-60M Joins The Black Hawk Family
In a July 31 rollout hosted by Sikorsky President Jeff Pino, the UH-60M made its debut as the newest member of the Black Hawk family of twin-engine utility helicopters.
The latest and most technologically advanced Black Hawk in the 28-year old bloodline, the UH-60M boasts new, higher horsepower General Electric T700-GE-701D engines; a new, more robust, composite-spar, wide-chord blade that can lift 500 lb more than the older UH-60L.
On the flight deck, pilots will find the latest in glass-cockpit technology, courtesy of four Rockwell Collins multi-function displays providing primary flight information, navigation and tactical aids. Also on board are a Stormscope lightning sensor, radar/laser warning system, digital mapping system, and fully-coupled autopilot. Sikorsky’s engineering team took advantage of the space savings afforded by the new technology, and trimmed the size of the instrument panel, thus improving visibility through the chin windows.
Also featured on the “M” model are two Canadian Marconi electronic flight management systems, an embedded GPS/inertial navigation system, and the Goodrich Integrated Vehicle Health Management System, which provides a wide range of information and analysis on the aircraft’s systems.
FARNBOROUGH: Kaman Wins Follow-On contract for Unmanned K-MAX
Kaman Aerospace reported that its Helicopters Div. has received a $3.1 million contract modification from the Army Material Research Development and Engineering Command for follow-on work to Kaman’s BURRO Unmanned Resupply Helicopter.
The funding covers work to enhance features of the automatic flight control system and to support BURRO participation in Army demonstrations. Kaman will perform the work at its Bloomfield, Connecticut facility.
Kaman has demonstrated BURRO’s lift and endurance capabilities in Army demonstrations conducted in Huntsville, Alabama and Bloomfield, Connecticut. The BURRO completed ‘robot-moving-robot’ simulated mission scenarios in November 2005 at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville. In April 2006 the Army demonstrated BURRO’s endurance capability, remaining aloft on a simulated mission over New England for 12 hr, 17 min.
FARNBOROUGH: Eurocopter Wants to Lease Helos to U.K.
Eurocopter is proposing that the United Kingdom lease civil EC225s for the Defence Ministry to close, in the near term, a gap in vertical-lift capability caused by the deployment of British helicopter units to Afghanistan and Iraq.
The concept is hardly new to Brtish defense officials, who for years have used civil-certificated helicopters to support operations within the United Kingdom and at deployed locations such as Belize. The approach is known as civil-owned, military-registered (COMR). Its foundation is that the leased aircraft remain on the U.K. civil registry and in compliance with civil regulations while in military use. This retains their market value when they return to civil use after the lease, which in turn lowers the lease costs for the military.
The United Kingdom wants to expand its use of COMR.
Eurocopter officials said the high-performance, medium-lift EC225 could replace the military’s Puma and possibly the Sea King Mk. 4 helicopter fleets.
The EC225 is the civil variant of the EC 725, both of which are the latest versions of the Super Puma helicopter family. The EC725 is in service with the French army and air force while the EC225 has customers in the offshore oil and gas industry, in governmental VIP service in Japan and Algeria and in search-and-rescue and offshore operations in China.
FARNBOROUGH: Bell, Israeli Firm Unveil X-Hawk
At ceremonies on the opening day of the Farnborough International Air Show, Bell Helicopter and Urban Aeronautics, Ltd. a full-scale mock-up of the X-Hawk™ Fancraft. The X-Hawk™ offers the vertical lift performance features of a helicopter, but without exposed rotors.
“Bell Helicopter is pleased to be exploring this exciting new technology with Urban Aeronautics,” said Bell CEO Mike Redenbaugh. “The advancement of vertical lift aircraft will only come with the development of new ideas and concepts. Bell’s history reflects a leading edge approach to research and development with tiltrotor technology the leading example of such efforts. The X-Hawk offers the potential of another significant aviation advancement.”
Bell officials said the X-Hawk configuration is ideal for vertical lift missions in confined areas and particularly in the urban environment. A fancraft is an ideal candidate for emergency medical services (EMS) on the commercial side. Calling it an extremely versatile air vehicle, they said X-Hawk is particularly suited for urban operations on the military side.
FARNBOROUGH BAE Showcases Enhanced Vision System
BAE Systems has developed a day/night, all-weather, all-obscurant capability designed to enable helicopter pilots to fly safely and avoid obstacles, including cables, in darkness, bad weather, and brown-out conditions.
The Obstacle Cable and Terrain Avoidance System (OCTAS) that BAE demonstrated at the Farnborough International Air Show, combines a Radar Cable Detection system with BAE Systems’ TERPROM terrain-avoidance system and a pilot display. The company said it offers a low-cost way to significantly improve pilot situational awareness and can be expanded through addition of other sensors and capabilities to suit specific missions.
“OCTAS is designed to help our war fighters ease their work load and increase safety and effectiveness,” said Tom Herring, vice president and general manager of Integrated Solutions for BAE Systems.
The Radar Cable Detection highlights obstacles—including extremely hazardous wires and cables — in the helicopter’s flight path and provides 3D information on their location relative to the aircraft.
FARNBOROUGH: V-22 Lands On International Stage
that crossed the Atlantic for the Osprey’s first appearance in the United Kingdom were the rotorcraft stars of the Farnborough Air Show, performing daily flight demonstrations as well as flights for defense dignitaries and possible international customers.
Marine officials confirmed that one of the two ingested ice on its transatlantic crossing. Officials initially said engine compressor stalls were the reason for the aircraft’s diversion to Iceland.
The deputy Marine commandant for aviation, Lt. Gen. John G. Castellaw, also confirmed that a maintenance error likely was to blame for a March 27 incident in which an MV-22 made an inadvertent flight, followed by a hard landing that broke its right wing. V-22 officials initially thought the problem was in the software for the aircraft’s full-authority digital engine controllers (FADECs).
FARNBOROUGH: Other News at the Air Show
Simplex Manufacturing said it has delivered the first of its new-generation DC electric hover pumps for the Simplex Fire Attack helicopter firefighting systems. The system is installed on a San Diego Sheriff’s Dept. Bell 205A1. Two more deliveries will follow to the Sheriff’s Dept. The new pump will slash fill times by nearly 50 percent, significantly enhancing operator efficiency, effectiveness, and responsiveness.
Thales said the French government has approved the next phase of a contract to develop its DUMAS missile-seeking technology by authorizing hardware for a demonstration to be installed on a helicopter in 2007-08. Thales said DUMAS should boost its ability to compete in the market for infrared missile seekers. Eurocopter said Citic Offshore Helicopter Co. Ltd. signed a contract for the supply of two EC225 helicopters. Citic Offshore Helicopter is the largest offshore helicopter operator in Asia. The EC225, which is the most advanced version in this twin-engine, medium-weight helicopter family, has an initial takeoff weight of 11,000 kg (24,200 lb), or 11,200 kg (24,640 lb) with a sling load.
FARNBOROUGH: Thales Says It Can Salvage U.K.Chinooks
Thales officials said their TopDeck helicopter avionics suite, being developed for application on Sikorsky’s S-76D, can help get back in the aireight U.K. Royal Air Force HC3 Chinooks grounded for seven years because they lack avionics certification.
The company is in discussions with Boeing on coming up with a proposal to get the tandem-rotor aircraft back in the air. “There’s no new development work required,” said Richard Deakin, Thales Aerospace’s managing director for the United Kingdom.
“We know what the certification problems are and we have looked at the risks,” Deakin said.
The predicament with the Chinooks is taking on greater important with the deployment the British helicopter fleet to combat operations in Southwest Asia. During the Farnborugh Air Show, the critical role helicopters play was highlighted again when aircraft were dispatched to the Mediterranean to aid in the evacuation of British citizens from Beirut, Lebanon after fighting broke out between Hezbollah and Israel.
FARNBOROUGH: New Military Helos Come Out Swinging
Sikorsky and AgustaWestland took advantage of this year’s Farnborough Air Show to unveil plans for new military helicopters.
AgustaWestland’s AW149 will be a heavier aircraft than the AW139, weighing in at 8-9 tons vs. 7 for the 139. It is intended to be capable of carrying 15 troops or 12 in full combat gear and two pilots for 500 nm. Its first flight is targeted for 2009.
(right) will compete with the AW149.
Sikorsky plans to offer it with a suite of armed reconnaissance and attack capabilities, including an integrated helmet display, C4I system, missiles, rockets, and a turreted gun. “Shrinking budgets and changing battlefield environments call for an effective multi- purpose aircraft for governments that have both an attack and utility requirement,” Sikorsky President Jeff Pino said. He said the Battlehawk will provide medium-lift capability that can be used in either combat or peace time, including troop transport, search and rescue, and disaster relief.