The Black Hawk’s second life
As the Pentagon was revealing its vision for its next-generation scout helicopter, providing details to industry on the lightest member of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) family, I found myself instead excited by the UH-60A.
At the end of February, the US Army released an RfI for what it is now calling FVL Capability Set 1 (CS1), which will be developed for the reconnaissance, light attack and light assault roles.
Usually details of the Pentagon’s latest attempt to introduce a new scout helicopter would be excuse enough for me to wax lyrical about the ghosts of Comanche, ARH and the more-recently aborted AAS programmes and the pitfalls likely awaiting this latest iteration.
However, instead I found myself wandering around the civil helicopter extravaganza that is Heli-Expo, this year in Louisville, Kentucky, where the presence of three civil-configured UH-60A Black Hawks added some additional spice to proceedings.
The US Army is in the middle of an active divestiture programme and 110 UH-60As had already been sold to date.
These are being snapped up by companies keen to offer a lower-cost alternative to the UH-60M or S-70i as FMS items to allies, as well as to civil customers for such missions as fire-fighting, construction and utility.
One of those companies is BHI², which displayed its ‘H-60X’ research and development aircraft (below) at Heli-Expo.
BHI² director of experimental flight test, Alex Anduze, told me the company had purchased more than 40 UH-60As from the US Army in the past year.
He noted that some 110 UH-60As had already been sold by the army to date and BHI² – a partnership between Brown Helicopter and Brainerd Helicopter – was looking to position itself as a primary supplier with its ‘C’ Hawk.
The company was also looking to promote how it can help sub-contractors develop and certify equipment independently of the main OEMs.
Arista Aviation, which currently has five Black Hawks on its books, displayed an UH-60A with refurbished glass cockpit.
The CEO of the company, Richard Enderle, has personally been flying the Black Hawk since 1982 and told Shephard reporter Grant Turnbull that he expected the market to ‘explode’ with demand for the aircraft, given their pedigree.
Also pitching for business were Timberline Helicopters, which claims it has access to more than 30 aircraft through a strategic partnership with Unical Defense, and PJ Helicopters with its ‘Utility Hawk’.
Shaking things up
While the introduction of the UH-60A has the potential to really shake up the civil utility market, given the budgetary pressures facing most major militaries, let alone smaller services in developing economies, the offer of a renovated Black Hawk through the FMS mechanism is likely to prove attractive.
Given the US government is auctioning ex-army UH-60As for $200,000 (alongside forklifts, sailing boats and ‘gold items’ on the GSA Auctions website), the refurbished aircraft are likely to be extremely competitive.
Operating expensive assets such as helicopters in an age of austerity was the theme of my comment last issue.
When simpler airframes such as the MD 530F/G are outselling the more complex Boeing AH-6i (see p19), and countries such as Kenya and Lebanon opt for zero-timed Bell UH-1H-based Huey IIs there is a clearly growing market for robust, lower-cost machines.
The UH-60 is obviously a battle-proven aircraft, with more than eight million hours of operation with the US Army and other fleets, and would be the top of many countries’ shopping lists if the price is right.