Navy picks Leonardo for helicopters

The Navy chose a helicopter built by Leonardo to serve as the platform that
will train the nation’s future Navy, Marine and Coast Guard pilots.

David Tortorano
February 2020

The long-awaited decision by the Navy about which helicopter will become its new
trainer at Naval Air Station Whiting Field was finally made in January.

The winner: Leonardo.

And for Santa Rosa County, that decision to pick Leonardo winded up being a win for
the county as well and its new aviation park.

The Navy announced last month that AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corp., the U.S.
operation of Leonardo of Italy, was awarded a contract for $176.5 million for the
production of 32 TH-73A helicopters in support of the Advanced Helicopter Training
System (AHTS) program.

“Today marks a great team effort to procure and deliver a helicopter trainer for the
next generation of helicopter and tilt-rotor pilots for the Navy, Marine Corps, and
Coast Guard,” said James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research,
development and acquisition.

“I’m proud of the aggressive work the team did to leverage the commercial industrial
base to get this capability to the warfighters, and our nation, at the best value to the
taxpayer. This effort is key to ensure the readiness of our Naval Aviators for decades
to come.”

Five proposals were submitted for the contract. The new firm fixed price TH-73A
contract was awarded on a best-value tradeoff basis with a base and three one-year

The total contract value is $648.1 million for the procurement of 130 aircraft.
Helicopter deliveries are scheduled to begin in calendar year 2020 and continue
through calendar year 2024.

There were three major candidates in the running for the contract: In addition to
Leonardo’s helicopter, the two other competitors were Bell's 407GXi, which would
have been assembled in Ozark, Ala., and Airbus Helicopter's H135, which would have
been assembled in Columbus, Miss. The Airbus was the only twin-engine offering.

Leonardo Helicopter said it would build a 100,000 square-foot support center at the
267-acre Whiting Aviation Park, adjacent to the Navy base, if it was selected to
supply the helicopter, at the time called TH-XX. It plans to hire up to 50 workers for
around-the-clock maintenance for the helicopters.

The new helicopter will meet advanced rotary wing and intermediate tilt-rotor training
requirements for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard through 2050.  The TH-
73A will be built in United States with assembly taking place, through FAA
Airworthiness certification, in the contractor’s FAA Part 21 facility in Philadelphia.

In addition to the TH-73A, the contract includes initial spares, peculiar support
equipment, flyaway kits, hoists, sling loads, data in excess of Commercial Form Fit
Function (FFF) / Operations Maintenance Instructional Training (OMIT) Data, as well
as ancillary instructor pilot and maintenance personnel training. The award is the
culmination of a competitive source selection process supported by personnel from
the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and the Chief of Naval Air Training

“The new Leonardo TH-73A helicopters are the cornerstone of AHTS, which is the
planned replacement to address the capability and capacity gaps of the current
aging TH-57 Sea Ranger helicopter training platform,” said Capt. Todd St. Laurent,
Naval Undergraduate Flight Training Systems (PMA-273) Program Manager.

“The TH-73A will provide a modern helicopter training platform that will serve rotary
and tilt-rotor training requirements into the foreseeable future. These new helicopters
will ensure the Navy has capacity to train several hundred aviation students per year
at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting Field in Milton, Fla.”  PMA-273, at NAS Patuxent
River, Md., oversees AHTS.

The new trainer had to be able to operate in temperatures ranging from -2 degrees
to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. The helicopter must be Federal Aviation Administration
certified and able to fly at 115 knots true air speed at cruise airspeed and capable of
flying at 80 knots when the doors are opened or removed. The aircraft must be
instrument flight rules certified, the document stated, meaning it must meet
requirements to fly in low-visibility conditions where relying on instruments for
navigation is important, wrote National Defense.

The Navy is also requiring a digital health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) for
ground-based display of information to aid in predictive maintenance and reduce
sustainability cost.

One piece of the puzzle was put in place last year when the Navy determined that
replacing the TH-57 training helicopters with a more advanced helicopter and new
ground based training system would have no significant impact on the quality of the
human environment. The finding of no significant impact meant there would be no
need to prepare an environmental impact statement.

The Sea Ranger, an aircraft based on the Bell Jet Ranger 206, was procured by the
Navy between 1981 and 1985. According to an April 2019 National Defense story, it’s
“experiencing obsolescence, diminishing manufacturing sources and material
shortages, and increasingly expensive operating costs relating to aging aircraft
issues,” stated the House Armed Services Committee markup for the fiscal year 2019
National Defense Authorization Act. Pilot shortfalls due to these issues could impact
readiness, the document said.

NAS Whiting Field, a 4,000-acre complex north of Milton, is one of the Navy's two
primary pilot training bases and the busiest aviation complex in the world. It accounts
for more than 1 million flight operations annually. It’s comprised of the North Field
and South Field, and 12 outlying landing fields encompassing some 18,000 acres
across four counties in Southeast Alabama and Northwest Florida.

Training Air Wing Five has three primary fixed-wing and three advanced helicopter
squadrons to train aviators from the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force,
and allied nations. The wing has 148 T-6 Texan II aircraft for fixed-wing training and
113 TH-57 helicopters for rotary wing training. Some 1,200 student aviators are
trained each year, including more than 500 helicopter aviators.

More than 60 percent of all primary flight training is performed at Whiting Field, along
with 100 percent of advanced U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard rotary wing
training. Roughly 15 percent of all Navy flight hours are performed at NAS
Whiting Field annually and about 11 percent of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast
Guard flight time worldwide.
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