Two bidders remain in contention for the UK Military Flying Training System’s rotary element. This follows the elimination of a third contender: an Elbit Systems-led team, which had been pitching the Bell Helicopter 407.

Flight International has previously reported that Airbus Helicopters UK is promoting the H135 and H145 light and medium twins, while Cobham – the incumbent provider of the current Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) service – is offering a solution including AgustaWestland’s skid-equipped AW109 Trekker.

The aircraft that is eventually selected will replace fleets of Airbus Helicopters AS350 Squirrel HT1s and Bell 412EP Griffin HT1s.

The new training aircraft will have full glass cockpits, which will allow them to be used to train pilots to operate frontline types including AgustaWestland’s AW101 Merlin and Wildcat, Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook and the Westland/Boeing AH-64 Apache AH1.

Final offers from both contenders are currently being prepared. A preferred bidder selection by Lockheed Martin/Babcock International joint venture Ascent Flight Training is anticipated late this year, ahead of a so-called Main Gate investment decision targeted for late in the first quarter of 2016. Contract placement is expected shortly afterwards, says Ascent Flight Training managing director Paul Livingston.

Initial course capability is to be declared at the Royal Air Force’s Shawbury base in Shropshire on 1 April 2018, and since that target was agreed early last year Ascent “has not missed a single day on that schedule”, Livingston says. Introduction of the new capability will be six years later than originally targeted, with the MoD having opted to extend use of the current DHFS infrastructure to reduce costs in the wake of its Strategic Defence and Security Review of October 2010.

The UK National Audit Office values the continuation of the current system with Cobham at some £300 million ($470 million).

“The solutions that are on the table are really good – both of them are technically very capable,” says Livingston, who declines to comment further due to the sensitive stage of the competition.

Although the timeline from selection to service introduction is short, he notes: “We’ve done so much work on fixed-wing, we’ve been able to learn from experience and take some of that into the contracting for rotary.”

AVM Andrew Turner, air officer commanding the RAF’s 22 Group training organisation, believes the future rotary system should retain the “joint flavour” but distinct multi-service feel of DHFS. “You can’t have joint-service capability without a single-service ethos,” he notes.

Source: Flight International