Airbus Helicopters has continued to highlight the credentials of its H175M super-medium-twin as a replacement for the Royal Air Force’s Puma HC2 fleet, which is to be retired from the middle of this decade.
Building on the recent announcement that it would assemble the H175M at Broughton in North Wales if selected for the UK’s looming New Medium Helicopter (NMH) requirement, the airframer has this week conducted a series of demonstration flights from its Oxford airport base using one of the programme’s certification prototypes (F-WMXB).
Attendees included politicians, Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials, service personnel and media.
Should the UK select the H175M, it would become the first customer for a military version of the helicopter, development of which has previously been stymied by participation of Chinese manufacturer Avicopter in the progamme.
But earlier this year Airbus Helicopters revealed that it had revised the H175’s supply chain, allowing it to build a military version free from Chinese content.
Notably, that includes an airframe now built by Stelia, Airbus’s French aerostructures unit. Other China-sourced parts replaced for the H175M include the tail rotor transmission and intermediate gearbox.
At present the fuselage remains in storage at the manufacturer’s Marignane production site in the south of France, although it says this will likely be developed into a prototype for the qualification of customer-specific equipment.
As part of its offer to the UK, Airbus Helicopters would also build H175Ms for export at the proposed Broughton assembly line.
Although the NMH programme remains its main target, the company insists it has “other export prospects in the pipeline”.
UK content on the helicopter will also be increased, says the airframer, but it maintains that it is too early to detail new suppliers, particularly as the MoD has yet to detail any firm requirements for the NMH.
While the H175M would be a new variant, Airbus Helicopters stresses that it is not starting the development from scratch. “We have been considering a military version of the H175 for a while; the replacement of the Puma may have accelerated this but we did not begin last month.”
Competition for the NMH contract – which alongside the Puma seeks to replace three other British Army-operated types – will come from the Leonardo Helicopters AW149 and potentially Sikorsky’s UH-60/S-70i Black Hawk variants.
Despite a maximum take-off weight that is 800kg (1,700lb) lower than the 8.6t boasted by the AW149, Airbus Helicopters claims the H175 has a higher useful load. The H175M’s cabin can accommodate 14 fully-equipped troops and it will have a range of around 500nm (926km) using standard fuel tanks. The AW149 can carry 16 troops and has a range of 517nm, achieved through the use of auxialliary fuel tanks.
Additionally, the airframer cites a reduced conversion burden on crews through cockpit commonality with the H135- and H145-based Juno and Jupiter HT1 helicopters used to train all the UK military’s rotary-wing pilots.
It argues that the H175’s Helionix avionics suite – an in-house development – already offers class-leading useability, which will be improved in subsequent software releases where it will gain new features including automatic take-off and vortex ring protection, systems derived from those seen on the newer H160 medium-twin.