Commonality benefits still promise operational and support savings despite cost overruns

Bell and the US Marine Corps have begun tests on the first fully upgraded AH-1Z Super Cobra attack helicopter featuring a new rotor system, drivetrain and avionics.

Ground runs on the third prototype, Zulu Three, began at the US Navy's Patuxent River, Maryland, test-centre on 17 August. Three days earlier, the second upgraded UH-1Y Huey utility helicopter, Yankee Two, also began ground runs.

Zulu Three was expected to enter flight testing late last week, joining the first prototype, Zulu One, which has logged over 350 flight hours, but which lacks the Northrop Grumman (formerly Litton) integrated avionics system with its flat-panel cockpit displays. The second AH-1Z prototype, Zulu Two, is heavily instrumented and is expected to fly at Patuxent River within the next month.

Zulu One is being used for dynamic system testing and flight-envelope expansion. Zulu Two and Three will be used for avionics and weapon system testing. Yankee Two has entered three weeks of electrical system ground testing and is expected to begin flight tests by the end of the month. The first UH-1Y prototype, Yankee One, has completed over 70h of flight testing. Both aircraft feature the full H-1 upgrade, including new engines, rotor system, drivetrain and avionics.

Both the AH-1Z and UH-1Y use the same integrated avionics system and software. Yankee One is flying with interim Block 2.2 software, with the final Block 2.5 standard to be delivered by the end of the year.

Because of delays and cost overruns, the plan to upgrade 180 AH-1Ws and 100 UH-1Hs is now estimated to cost $6.2 billion, although the USMC still expects to save $3 billion in operating and support costs as the result of the increased commonality between the upgraded helicopters. The AH-1Z and UH-1Y are 84% common. Initial operational capability is now planned for 2007.


Source: Flight International