|EA done, but TH-XX race continues
The new training help will have no significant impact, but decision still needs to be
made on training helicopter replacement
Gulf Coast Reporters League
While it's still unknown what helicopter will become the new Navy trainer at Naval Air
Station Whiting Field, one piece of the puzzle has been put in place. The Navy
determined that replacing the TH-57 training helicopters with a more advanced
helicopter and new ground based training system will have no significant impact on
the quality of the human environment.
A finding of no significant impact has been issued and preparation of an
environmental impact statement is not required.
The Navy is modernizing its rotary-wing and tilt-rotor integrated pilot production
training program at Training Air Wing Five at NAS Whiting Field, near Milton, Fla.,
and its associated helicopter training Outlying Landing Fields in Florida.
The Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS), also called the TH-XX, will replace
the TH-57 Sea Ranger training helicopters and simulators, and the training tempo will
also increase. There will also be changes in operational tactics based on a new
curriculum, construction of temporary and permanent supporting facilities, and an
increase in personnel.
All eyes are now on which of three candidates will replace the TH-57. In the running
is Bell's 407GXi, Airbus Helicopter's H135 and Leonardo Helicopter's TH-119. The
Airbus offering is the only twin-engine of the three contenders.
One of the helos is assembled in Philadelphia, and the other two will be assembled in
the Southeast - one in Columbus, Miss., the other Ozark, Ala.
Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) anticipates awarding a single firm-fixed-price
contract for 130 helicopters through a base and up to four options. The contract
award is expected in the first quarter of fiscal 2020. The new platforms will be
purchased beginning in fiscal 2020 and the entire fleet of TH-57s will be replaced by
One competitors has committed to setting up an operation here. Leonardo Helicopter
says it will build a 100,000 square-foot support center at the 267-acre Whiting
Aviation Park, adjacent to the Navy base, if it is selected to supply the TH-XX. It plans
to hire up to 50 workers for around-the-clock maintenance for the helicopters.
The Navy has made available the Final Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared in
accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which evaluates the
potential environmental effects of the replacement program. The Draft EA was made
available for public review and comment from June 28 through July 19, 2019. All
comments were considered in preparing the Final EA, according to U.S. Fleet Forces
The TH-XX will be a more capable and reliable commercially available helicopter than
what’s currently used by Training Air Wing 5 and will be in use through 2050. It will
require an additional 33 training personnel at Whiting Field.
For the Draft EA, a conservative representative surrogate helicopter, the UH-72
Lakota, larger and louder than comparable commercially available helicopters, was
used to analyze the potential impacts from the TH-XX.
Training operations would generally be similar to existing training. However, there
would be an increase in the number of annual flight operations, to include training
involving night vision device training, flying in formation at night, and search an
Prior to arrival of the TH-XX, new facilities and associated infrastructure would be
constructed at NAS Whiting Field to accommodate helicopter maintenance activities
and ground based training requirements. Two temporary facilities will be built but
replaced by two permanent structures.
The replacement helicopter
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.
The Navy requested $261.2 million in the base budget to fund 32 aircraft in fiscal
year 2020, according to budget justification documents. Budget projections include
acquiring 31 in fiscal year 2021, 31 in 2022 and 15 in 2023, according to National
The new trainer must 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
The TH-119 earlier this year achieved FAA certification to fly with its new Genesys
Aerosystems glass cockpit, according to an April story by Rotor and Wing. It reported
in July 2019 that the TH-119 was cleared by the FAA to fly in inclement weather
under instrument flight rules, the first single-engine helicopter in decades to earn that
According to Avionics International, about a month after the FAA cleared the
Leonardo TH-119 to fly in inclement weather under instrument flight rules (IFR), on
Aug. 15 Bell received IFR certification for the 407GXi helicopter, the company said.
The Airbus H135 was previously IFR certified.
Leonardo’s TH-119 is built in the U.S. at a facility outside Philadelphia. Airbus builds
the H135 in Germany, but plans to assemble the aircraft at its manufacturing facility
in Columbus, Miss., where it also builds the UH-72 A Lakota for the U.S. Army. Bell
builds the 407 in Mirabel, Canada, and in April 2019, Bell announced it would
assemble the 407GXi in Ozark, where it also works on the Fire Scout unmanned
Although the Navy knew the TH-57 would be replaced, in December 2014, the Navy
opted to upgrade the TH-57 simulators with new devices as part of a larger goal of
modernizing the entire helicopter ground training system. Earlier this year NAS
Whiting began receiving new simulators for the TH-57.
“NAS Whiting Field and Training Air Wing Five are responsible for training the nation’
s future aviation warfighters with a world class training program. The wing trains 100
percent of all Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps helicopter students, as well as
some international students,” said Julie Zieghorn, a Whiting spokeswoman.
“The helicopter training simulators in use to accomplish that mission are 1970s
technology and required updates to continue the level of training needed for today's
aviation requirements. The new advanced helicopter training system will take some
time to complete acquisition, and the Navy decided to proceed with the purchase of
the new Level 6 and 7 simulators to afford our students the most advanced training
possible. The simulators will be in use for at least seven years, until the new
advanced helicopter training system with simulators are completely on line.”
The Whiting role
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.