US Marine Corps closely is monitoring the rises costs of the snag-ridden upgrade

The US Marine Corps (USMC) is hoping the worst Bell AH-1Z/UH-1Y developmental delays are now past as the service awaits approval from the Department of Defense (DoD) for a new baseline schedule.

Meanwhile, the USMC is working around the latest technical hitch, which affects the helicopter's blade yoke, a key element of the bearing less main rotor hub.

Under a new plan due to be presented shortly to Pete Aldridge, DoD undersecretary for acquisition, the first low-rate initial production batch of six AH-1Z attack helicopters and three UH-1Y utility machines will be ordered in fiscal year 2004 for delivery in 2006.

A second batch will be ordered in FY05 and, depending on the results of operational evaluation (Opeval), full-rate production will start the following year, with an initial operational capability targeted for 2007.


The USMC will conduct its first operational test of the AH-1Z in October, but it will be "fairly benign" and will not include weapons firing or shipboard operations, says Col Doug Isleib, H-1 programme manager.

This will be followed in August by a more demanding series of operational tests, including off-base deployment and maintenance in the lead up to full six-month Opeval starting in August 2004.

Development has been slowed by a series of avionics delays and structural changes. The latest problem is delamination of the first AH-1Z test helicopter's composite yoke after only 192h of flight, despite a 1,500h design life. Flying continues with inspections every 10h until a solution is found.

Isleib says there are three choices, with the first - a reinforced yoke - to be tested in March. Failing this, Bell will examine reducing the size of the yoke's three damper holes to increase strength, or replacing the dampers with a different design.

The USMC is confident that the programme is past the more serious delayed development of the Northrop Grumman (previously Litton) integrated avionics system (IAS). The second test machine, an UH-1Y, recently made its first flight fitted with the IAS and interim Block 2.2 software allowing use of the forward looking infrared navigation sensor. The final Block 2.5 software is due to be delivered by the end of the year.

Handling issues are also close to resolution with the adoption of a larger horizontal tail plane, though whether the H-1 will retain the current endplates is to be decided. The USMC is monitoring the $3.7 billion cost of remanufacturing 180 AH-1Ws and 100 UH-1Ys. "We continue to look at cost reduction and if building new is cheaper we would do so," adds Isleib.

Source: Flight International