Finmeccanica intends to compete for two substantial helicopter requirements for the US military, offering the 15-seat AW139 as a replacement for the US Air Force’s 62 Bell UH-1Ns, and the AW119 Koala for the US Navy's helicopter training programme, potentially replacing up to 117 Bell 206-based TH-57 Sea Rangers.
Daniele Romiti, managing director of Finmeccanica’s helicopter division, confirmed the bids of the eve of the Heli-Expo event in Louisville, Kentucky on 29 February, saying both bids would be delivered through the company’s rotorcraft plant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The AW139 would satisfy two separate air force mission sets being performed using the 43-year-old UH-1N Twin Huey: armed overwatch of 450 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile silos across five states, and transport of government and military officials around the nation’s capital from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
The air force seeks funding in fiscal year 2017 to begin replacing the UH-1N with 72 replacement helicopters, and is considering splitting the requirement and soliciting unique proposals for each mission.
The USN has been exploring TH-57 replacements since 2013, as it looks to upgrade from the 48-year-old single-engined type to an alternative that is more modern and cheaper to maintain. The TH-57 is an intermediary training platform for navy and US Marine Corps aviators preparing to fly the Bell Boeing V-22 tiltrotor, as well as the Sikorsky H-53 and H-60 and Bell H-1 derivatives.
“The 139 is the best fit for the [air force] mission,” says Romiti. “The 119 – the Koala – is the perfect size for a [navy] training helicopter, with enough power to allow it to simulate all the significant manoeuvring capabilities that are a baseline for helicopter pilots.
“Both of them are currently produced in the United States, in Philadelphia. As well, the US content of those two well exceeds, I would guess, 70%.”
Romiti believes the AW139 is well suited to both air force Huey missions, indicating Finmeccanica will try capture all 72 orders, instead of focusing on either the nuclear security mission or the so-called “continuity of government” mission around Washington DC.
The navy’s training requirement includes an aircraft qualified to provide instrument flight rules (IFR) certification for flying in poor weather conditions – a role currently performed by 73 C-model TH-57s.
Finmeccanica would need to upgrade the AW119's avionics and wiring to meet the IFR requirement. The company does see demand for an IFR-qualified AW119 trainer around the world, but the navy requirement alone is worth the investment, it says.
The single-engined, AW109-derived Koala is “already IFR-capable, it’s just a matter of changing the avionics,” the company says.