The first production example of Europe's NH Industries-built NH90 utility helicopter made its public debut at the ILA show last week, just days after its maiden flight from Eurocopter's Donauworth plant on 4 May.

The first flight, which lasted 2h 5min, "demonstrated the reliability of the system", says Eurocopter chief executive Fabrice Bregier.

The German army will formally accept its first NH90 tactical transport in June 2005 after the helicopter completes a qualification process lasting roughly one year next May. The service will, however, receive an initial two aircraft by early next year to enable it to launch instructor training. The NH90's naval variant will complete qualification in November 2005, with first deliveries set for the following month. No fewer than 20 aircraft configurations must be cleared for the nine countries.

A total of 22 NH90s are now in build, and the type has logged 2,300 flight hours, half made under fly-by-wire control. A total of 325 NH90s are on order for nine countries, with 86 more held as options. NH Industries projects a market to export a further 230 aircraft over the life of the programme, with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and the UK all viewed as potential buyers.

"The next order will be outside Europe," predicts Bregier, who expects the total number of countries to buy the system to eventually reach 15.

Eurocopter, meanwhile, says a contract to develop a combat search and rescue variant of the NH90 is "99% negotiated" and that the deal will be closed within the next two months.

"The aircraft is defined, but we are negotiating on the price", says a company source. The platform will be equipped with an air-to-air refuelling capability, Link 16 datalink and air-to-air missiles.

n France and Germany will later this month each receive their first two series-production Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopters, enabling them to launch instructor training on the type. The company will this year deliver eight Tigers to France, five to Germany, two to Australia and three to Spain.

Qualification work has now been completed on the French HAPand German UHTvariants of the Tiger, with about 4,000 flight hours logged.

Source: Flight International