Airbus Helicopters has rolled the first UH-72A Lakota off the assembly line that will be delivered straight to Fort Rucker, Alabama, as the US Army begins to replace more than 180 Bell Helicopter TH-67 Creek primary trainers.

The latest UH-72A to emerge from the Airbus helicopter assembly plant in Columbus, Mississippi, is part of the programme’s steady growth since being selected as the army’s new fleet of light utility helicopters in 2006.

In addition to the original army order, the US Navy and the Thai army have placed follow-on orders for the medium-twin UH-72, which is a direct copy of the civil-certificated H145. In 2014, the army also announced that it would acquire another roughly 106 UH-72s to partly replace the single-engined TH-67 fleet.

Those new-build aircraft will be combined with another 80 UH-72s that will be repurposed from the active army fleet.

The first newly-assembled UH-72 in Columbus will join seven operational UH-72s that have already been delivered to Fort Rucker to begin the transition from the TH-67 fleet, says John Burke, Airbus’ president of the UH-72 programme.

Another roughly 15 UH-72s are being modified for the training role. Configuration changes include an instructor pilot seat and removing certain mission equipment, Burke says.

The decision to replace the TH-67 with the UH-72 will fill the backlog for the Columbus plant for several more years, with 25 aircraft expected to be delivered in 2015, Burke says.

Deliveries later this year will include the first UH-72s ordered by the Thai army, Burke says. Another five or six countries have expressed interest in acquiring the type through the foreign military sales process, he adds. US military officials have previously named Iraq as a potential buyer.

[CORRECTION: Updated version corrects the branch of the Thai military that has ordered the UH-72 and corrects the source of the roughly 80 UH-72s that are being re-purposed to replace the TH-67.]