In 2015, the US Army selected the Airbus Helicopters UH-72 Lakota to replace the Bell Helicopter TH-67 Creek training aircraft under the Aviation Restructuring Initiative (ARI). It was a controversial move for many reasons.
There was scepticism surrounding pilots learning on heavier, dual-engine aircraft as opposed to the lighter, single-engine platforms that the service was used to.
There are currently 150 UH-72As at Fort Rucker, the base for primary flight training. A further 212 Lakotas are in service with the Air National Guard.
When the army announced details of the ARI, many analysts argued that the Lakota was too complex an aircraft for novice pilots, due to its twin engines and glass cockpit. Significantly larger in size than the average training helicopter, the type could prove troublesome should new aviators progress to older, analogue models.
However, Airbus noted that the army’s active fleet is made up of twin-engine platforms with glass cockpits. Extra time and costs previously spent training pilots to transition from the original single-engine training platform to an aircraft in service are eliminated by using the Lakota. With the US Army prospectively ordering additional aircraft, the scepticism seems to be no longer part of the procurement dialogue.
Airbus Helicopters was awarded the original UH-72 contract in 2006, and the first aircraft,was delivered in the same year. The 400th Lakota was received by the US Army in August this year, and the type is now entering the final stages of fully replacing the TH-67 Creek as the service’s principal helicopter trainer, as detailed in the ARI.
‘The 400 deliveries have all been on time and on cost which is a pretty significant accomplishment in the defence world,’ said Scott Tumpak, senior director of the Lakota programme at Airbus Helicopters. This year, the company is hoping to continue this success as it aims to complete delivery of 27 aircraft.
‘[We provide] contractor logistics support as well. Right now, we are fielding those aircraft to Fort Rucker for the training mission,’ he added. With regards to the transition from the TH-67 to the Lakota, Tumpak said that the army is ‘flipping’ towards 75% usage of the latter as the ramp-up continues.
He believes that a twin-engine aircraft is a key training platform. ‘If we think about the US Army’s training missions with the current Lakota, it’s optimal for their training mission.’
The breakdown of UH-72s being delivered has been based on the army’s demands, and in one instance, Tumpak said a batch of 55 aircraft were delivered.
More than 460,000 flight hours have been achieved across the Lakota fleet since 2006. Six aircraft are also operated by the Royal Thai Army, and the USN has five examples at its test pilot school in Patuxent River.
Tumpak confirmed that there is a possibility that Thailand will take on more aircraft, but could not confirm further details at this stage. In addition, there are other militaries interested in the platform through the FMS route.
However, staying stateside, Tumpak commented that the army ‘has increased its own requirement, and there’s appropriate funding through Congress. We are looking forward to a contract for a further 44 aircraft.’ The army requirement is now at 462 helicopters.
For a full version of this article please see the Nov-Dec edition of DH and for more on our magazines see here.