Leonardo's TH-119 training helicopter at the Navy's League's 2019 Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland. (Dan Parsons)
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Leonardo Helicopters has completed flights of its single-engine TH-119 necessary for instrument flight rules certification and should gain FAA approval in coming weeks.
If successful, the TH-119 — Leonardo’s pitch for the U.S. Navy’s next-generation training rotorcraft — will become the first single-engine IFR certified helicopter in decades.
IFR certification allows a pilot to fly the aircraft through bad weather, where pilot visibility is limited, using only onboard avionics and navigation instruments. The Navy is requiring the certification for its new TH-XX, which will replace the legacy TH-57 Sea Ranger fleet used by all Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard pilot trainees.
“We’re done flying and it’s with the FAA,” said Andrew Gappy, Leonardo’s director of U.S. government sales. “We should have a piece of paper within 30 days.”
The process to certify the TH-119, based on the company’s commercial AW119, took seven months, Gappy told R&WI on May 6 at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference here. FAA inspectors will now go over all the necessary paperwork, while the conformity check and FAA check flights have been completed, he said.
TH-119 features a four-screen all-glass Genesys Aerosystems cockpit, which is also installed on the twin-engine AW109 Trekker. It is the fourth cockpit evolution the company has been through in eight years of developing the AW119, Gappy said.
Configured as a training helicopter, the dual-display avionics system allows instruction from either pilot seat with full IFR capabilities including flight director and 3-axis full autopilot.
Also competing to replace the Navy’s fleet of legacy TH-57 Sea Ranger training helicopters are the twin-engine Airbus H135 and the Bell 407GXi, an evolutionary descendant of the TH-57. The Navy is on an abbreviated timeline to purchase as many as 125 IFR certified, commercially available aircraft within five years. The H135 is IFR certified and both Leonardo and Bell have until August to achieve certification and deliver documentation to the Navy, according to the service’s timeline. An award to one company is expected in November.
Bell is confident the 407GXi also will gain IFR certification in time to meet the Navy’s deadline. Carl Forsling, manager of domestic campaigns and global military sales and strategy at Bell, told R&WI the FAA would sign off on its TH-XX pitch by August.
“We have a few test events that we’re still working on, but we’re very confident that we will be certified in time to meet the Navy’s requirements,” Forsling told R&WI at Sea-Air-Space.
Both aircraft represent a door opening wide in the single-engine commercial helicopter market that has been held shut by onerous FAA regulations for years. After that decades-long drought in single-engine IFR certifications, two are about to land on the market whether the Navy buys them or not.
A version of the TH-119 with the Genesys cockpit first took flight in late December. It and all commercial AW119 aircraft are built in Leonardo’s manufacturing facility outside Philadelphia. The company used the Navy’s TH-XX competition as the impetus for gaining IFR certification, Gappy said.
For instance, the FAA supplemental type certificate is for the right seat’s two screens while the other two are optional for commercial customers, Gappy said.
“It becomes the market entry point for IFR,” Gappy said. “While this particular requirement was done for the Navy program, it has a broader reach, but we as a company are going to evaluate what we are going to do with it. It certainly will impact the market; there’s no question.”