With the TH-119, Leonardo Helicopters is offering the U.S. Navy twin-engine performance, power and safety in a single-engine package that is less expensive to buy and maintain.
“With the TH-119, we are delivering what we are calling a full-spectrum training helicopter,” Andrew Gappy, Leonardo’s director of Navy, Marine Corps and federal programs, told R&WI. “It’s equally capable in one configuration to do every flight they currently do in the syllabus. It still has plenty of room to grow.”
“You’re basically getting twin-engine capability at a single-engine cost profile,” Gappy added. “There are times when having a twin-engine is a good thing. This just doesn’t happen to be one of them.”
The Navy is in the market for a commercial, off-the-shelf replacement for its TH-57 Sea Ranger training helicopter fleet. Plans are to start buying new trainers in fiscal 2020, just about 16 months from now, and have the entire TH-57 fleet divested by 2023. An industry day is scheduled for November, followed by a final RFP in February 2019. Final proposals likely will be due in April with a contract award in early fiscal 2020, according to Navy documents.
The TH-57 Sea Ranger is based on the Bell 206 Jet Ranger, which also served as the basis of the U.S. Army’s now-retired OH-58 Kiowa armed scout helicopter. Bell’s offering to replace it is the most modern version of the 407 — the GXi.
Airbus is pitching its twin-engine H135, a cousin of the H145 chosen as the Army’s dedicated training helicopter and designated the UH-72 Lakota.
Leonardo’s TH-119 is derived from the light twin-engine AW109 Trekker, but with a single engine. It features a dual-display avionics system with modern glass cockpit compatible with night-vision devices by Genesys Aerospace Systems. More than 250 AW119s have been built at Leonardo’s plant outside Philadelphia.
Powered by a single 1,000-shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B engine, the 119 brings many of the safety and redundancy of a twin-engine helicopter into a simpler, more cost-effective airframe designed specifically for training, Gappy said.
“We evaluated what we had that meets the requirement and felt the aircraft that met that requirement the best and fits into the long history the Navy has with single-engine aircraft for undergraduate-level training,” Gappy said. “We evaluated both single-engine and twin-engine and came back with if we put a full IFR certification on the 119, it meets the requirement and will give the Navy the cost profile they’re after and simplicity they’re after with room to grow.”
Topping the Navy’s list of requirements published in a draft RFP in October is FAA certification to fly under instrument flight rules, or IFR, which is necessary for flying over the ocean or through weather where visibility is impaired.
The legacy TH-57C is IFR certified under an earlier version of the FAA’s current standards, but would no longer pass. Therefore, the Navy is insisting on IFR certification under the updated restrictions.
There has been a lot of effort on the part of manufacturers to get the FAA to revisit IFR training standards, but the surest way to clear an aircraft is to have it certified under current rules, Gappy said.
“The simple fact is, and it’s supported by a lot of safety data, if you can fly IFR in a helicopter, it is a safer way to fly when there’s weather that forces you closer to the ground,” Gappy said. “Our approach to it was to say, ‘You’re right. Then, let’s IFR certify our 119.' … It’s the quickest approach, quite frankly, because trying to get the FAA to change or lower their restrictions … is a slow, onerous process.”
The 119 is in training fleets elsewhere and has enjoyed increased attention from countries in Europe and Asia since Leonardo has been marketing it to the U.S. Navy, Gappy said.
“The 119 is seen as the best of both worlds in terms of single-engine and twin-engine,” he said. “If you can combine these multi-engine capabilities — while keeping cost lower because this is still a single-engine helicopter — with an IFR capability, you have something very, very, very close to a light twin, but with greater performance than your usual light single.”