The US Army has opened bidding for a 322-aircraft light utility helicopter (LUH) fleet, seeking a USFederal Aviation Administration-certificated design and a contractor willing to provide all maintenance support.

Since introducing the programme in February, the army has slightly expanded the fleet size from 303 to 322 aircraft, but the overall goals of the programme remain unchanged. The army wants a relatively straightforward LUH for "general support" flights in non-combat zones, relieving more capable aircraft, such as the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk fleet, for combat support missions.

General requirements for the aircraft operating in high-altitude and hot environments include performance minimums of 400km (217nm) range, 2.8h endurance and a cruise airspeed of 125kt (230km/h). The aircraft also must be equipped to carry medical evacuation equipment and an external hoist.

The winning bidder also must perform LUH maintenance on a "24h/seven-day basis", according to acquisition documents released late last month. As such, the aircraft will not require an organic supply chain for army maintainers. "I'm not going to bring parts inside the army," says Col Cory Mahanna, project manager for utility helicopters.

The army's relatively straightforward requirements for the LUH have prompted a diverse response. Bell Helicopter plans to interest the army in the Model 210, but could be undercut by a joint bid from Global Helicopter Technology/DynCorp offering less expensive upgrade kits. European manufacturers including AgustaWestland and Eurocopter also plan to compete.

Meanwhile, Sikorsky is proposing to refurbish retired UH-60As into a stripped down LUH-60 design.

Source: Flight International