Bell demonstration pilot Genaro Camacho inspects a 407GXi at an airport near Atlanta on March 4, 2019. (Photo by Dan Parsons)
ATLANTA — Proud Puerto Rican native Genaro Camacho, a demonstration pilot for Bell and a former U.S. Army OH-58D pilot, remembers flying 8 to 10 hours with his hands on the controls of the Kiowa Warrior in Afghanistan.
Camacho hails from Ceiba, Puerto Rico, the site of the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station and the town where renowned cellist Pablo Casals lived his final years at a home called El Pesebre, "the manger." Before leaving Afghanistan and retiring from the Army last April, Camacho was able to show his pride by flying the Puerto Rican flag on the side of his OH-58D.
While the latter helicopter was analog, Camacho's new bird, the Bell 407 GXi, is almost purely digital. Bell is offering the 407GXi in the U.S. Navy competition to replace its aging Bell TH-57 Sea Ranger trainers.
Flying the Bell 407GXi to show four journalists — one in front and three in back — its capabilities, Camacho could set the helicopter on autopilot and rely on the rotor craft's inherent capabilities. A half hour flight around nearby Stone Mountain was uneventful in 20 knot cross winds at 130 knots ground speed.
"I love technology," he said. "The Bell 407GXi brings modern aviation technology to a new level. Having a completely glass cockpit with a Garmin G1000 NXi [integrated flight deck] makes an easier transition to the advanced aircraft that the Department of Defense operates. The 407GXi with a two axis autopilot allows the initial instrument training to be more efficient and makes it a very stable platform. The Garmin G1000 NXi flight stream allows a more rapid flight planning loading with a touch of a screen."
"I learned how to fly in the Army flight school in a single engine helicopter TH-67 analog," he said. "I have been a helicopter pilot since 2005 and became an instructor pilot in 2010 and taught in a single engine initial rotary training to Latin American students and to U.S. Army student pilots."
The aircraft was remarkably stable in those cross winds during the flight around Stone Mountain on March 4, and the cockpit afforded a wide view to give the pilot better situational awareness. Camacho kicked up the helicopter to 130 knots but would not go higher for safety's sake, given the high cross winds. He said that the 407GXi has operated at 20,000 feet, a ceiling that easily puts the aircraft within the 15,000 foot ceiling requirement for the U.S. Navy training helicopter competition.
Bell is showcasing the 407GXi at the Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo show this week in Atlanta.
In late January, the Navy published the final request for proposals to build a replacement for the TH-57 training helicopters. While Bell is offering the 407GXi, Leonardo is likely to propose its TH119 single-engine trainer, and Airbus Helicopters its H135 light twin.
Industry hopefuls have until April 2 to submit proposals for the Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) TH-XX. The IFR-certified TH-XX aircraft will replace the legacy TH-57B/C Sea Rangers used by the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard for advanced helicopter training for undergraduate pilots.
The TH-XX will fly at 115 knots true cruise airspeed during daytime operations and 80 knots true airspeed with the doors removed with a service ceiling of at least 15,000 feet, according to the RFP. It will be able to hover out of ground effect at maximum gross takeoff weight at sea level and have two and a half hours of endurance with “mission fuel equal to endurance fuel.”
Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) anticipates awarding a single firm-fixed-price contract for a total procurement of 130 commercial aircraft through a base and up to four options, according to the RFP. Contract award is anticipated in the first quarter of fiscal 2020.
As a training system, AHTS includes the TH-XX aircraft and its associated Ground Based Training System (GBTS) to train contact, basic and radio instruments, basic formation, and tactical events including use of night vision devices, low level navigation, external load, search and rescue (SAR), hoist, shipboard operations and tactical formation, according to the RFP.
Navy plans are to start buying new trainers in fiscal 2020 and have the entire TH-57 fleet divested by 2023.
The Navy is also mandating a digital health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) for ground-based display of information to aid in predictive maintenance and reduce sustainability cost. The HUMS system should store data generated from 24 continuous flying hours and provide diagnostics and health monitoring of drive train components, rotor components, engines and engine performance, absorbers, hydraulic systems, electrical systems, hydro-mechanical and electro-mechanical systems, and for structural usage monitoring/regime recognition, according to the RFP.