Numerous TH-57 Sea Ranger Helicopters sit on the flight line at Millington Municipal Airport. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy
The U.S. Navy released a draft request for proposals (RFP) for its new training helicopter and gave industry hopefuls about two weeks to provide comments on how the final document, due in February, should be worded.
Few changes were included in the draft request for proposals Oct. 31, but publication of the RFP is a sign the Navy is dutifully sticking to its proposed program schedule, industry sources told R&WI. Responses to the latest draft RFP are due Nov. 16.
They will likely come from the three companies that are publicly competing for the work: Leonardo with its TH119 single-engine trainer, Airbus Helicopters with its H135 light twin and incumbent TH-57 Sea Ranger manufacturer Bell, which is offering the 407GXi.
Contractors have been working off a request for information released last year, which laid out the Navy’s needs as a commercially available, FAA-certified, IFR-capable training aircraft on an abbreviated schedule.
Plans are to start buying new trainers in fiscal 2020, a little over a year from now, and have the entire TH-57 fleet divested by 2023. An industry day is scheduled for this month, followed by a final RFP in February 2019. Final proposals likely will be due in April with a contract award in early fiscal 2020.
Assuming a contract award date in November 2019, the draft RFP states contenders should be prepared to deliver aircraft no later than 12 months after contract award at a rate of three aircraft per month over a continuous 12-month period.
Helicopter pilots now make up more than half of all U.S. naval aviators. The fleet needs to be capable of producing more than 600 Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard pilots each year, a requirement that will persist through at least 2040, according to the draft RFP.
The advanced helicopter training system (AHST) should be designed to meet those needs through 2050, the document said.
Navy officials have declined to comment on the record as a final RFP is in the works with a February release date. The service’s trainers and pilots got a look at the three contenders Oct. 22 to 26 at the Naval Helicopter Association’s Fleet Fly-in at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Pensacola, Florida. Prior to releasing a formal request for proposals, the event gave Navy instructor pilots hands-on operational experience with contenders for a major acquisition program.
Airbus pilots conducted orientation flights with Navy pilots and others to demonstrate the H135’s capabilities at the October fleet fly-in.
“As a twin-engine helicopter, the H135 provides a training environment most similar to the Navy’s warfighting rotorcraft fleet, creating opportunities for cost and operational efficiencies compared to a single-engine aircraft,” said Scott Tumpak, VP of military programs at Airbus Helicopters.
The H135 boasts the Airbus-developed Helionix avionics package designed by pilots specifically for helicopters. The H135’s advanced cockpit design improves pilots’ situational awareness while reducing workload, which enhances safety. The high-set main rotor and Fenestron shrouded tail rotor contribute to improved operational safety.
Airbus produces the U.S. Army’s primary training helicopters, the twin-engine UH-72A Lakota. Since contract award in 2006, Airbus has delivered 431 Lakotas on time, on cost and on quality. The Lakota also is the primary trainer aircraft for the Navy’s Advanced Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland.
Leonardo flew two aircraft to the show because a full-up version of its TH-119 with the Genesis cockpit avionics suite it will offer the Navy installed has not yet flown. The company flew Navy officials in the TH-119KE, which has an older cockpit but is in TH-119 configuration. The company also brought an AW109 Trekker, which does have the Genesis cockpit. Between the two aircraft, Navy officials could get the full picture of what would be on offer to replace the TH-57, said Andrew Gappy, director of Navy, Marine Corps and Federal Programs for Leonardo Helicopters U.S. Government Sales.
“It acted as a surrogate for pilots to see what the avionics were like in the 119,” Gappy said of the Trekker. “The reaction to the Genesis cockpit and the avionics was better than even I suspected it would be. … We flew over 40 Navy personnel, instructor pilots down there.”
The TH-119 with Genesis cockpit is being completed at Leonardo’s production facility outside Philadelphia and should make its first flight in the next couple weeks, Gappy said. Other than installation of the new cockpit, there were no significant system changes to the TH-119, so flight testing should be done and FAA certification in hand by the time the Navy releases its final RFP in February, Gappy said.
Bell’s 407GXi, the most-modern evolution of the 207 that served as the basis for the TH-57 Sea Ranger, has flown extensively. The base model 407 was first certified in 1996.
Bell itself has provided the Navy’s training helicopter for 35 years and has participated in every fly-in event in Pensacola since 2013, said Scott Clifton, director of global military business development. As incumbent aircraft and service provider, the company maintains a working relationship between the Chief of Naval Air Training standardization instructors in the service’s helicopter training squadrons and the Bell Training Academy.
“During the FFI events, Bell has been excited to showcase the capabilities of the glass cockpit 407GXi as well as have discussions on how Bell and the U.S. Navy can work together to refine and update Navy advanced helicopter flight training,” Clifton said. “Since Bell is the second largest producer of helicopter pilots behind the U.S. military, we feel we have a key perspective to continue our long relationship with the USN for not just a new aircraft but the ability to help shape advanced helicopter flight training to meet the U.S. Navy’s near term and long-term goals.”