Leonardo wins US Navy next-gen training helicopter contract

The US Navy has selected Leonardo Helicopters’ TH-119 – now TH-73A – as the winner of its Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) contest – replacing its ageing fleet of Bell TH-57B/C Sea Rangers as the service’s next-generation training helicopters.

The announcement came on January 13, following the award of a firm-fixed-price contract, worth US$176.5m. The contract includes the supply of the first 32 aircraft, along with initial spares, flyaway kits, sling loads, hoists and support equipment, plus instructor pilot and maintenance personnel training services. In total, the AHTS contract is valued at US$648.1m for the acquisition of all 130 aircraft. Deliveries are scheduled to begin before the end of 2020 and are due for completion in 2024. Leonardo Helicopters states that work on this initial contract is expected to be completed by October 2021.

TH-119 [Leonardo] #1
The Leonardo TH-119 in flight. Leonardo

In US Navy service, the TH-119 will be designated the TH-73A. It is based on the civilian-operated AW119 utility helicopter, said to offer lower operating costs with its single turboshaft engine as opposed to a twin-engine powerplant. In the competitive AHTS contest – held by Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) – Leonardo Helicopters’ offer was chosen over Airbus Helicopters’ H135 and Bell’s 407GXi light helicopter. The H135 has already proven popular on the training helicopter market, being operated by the German Army, Royal Air Force (Defence Helicopter Flying School) and Royal Australian Navy. However, the US Navy states that the “new firm-fixed-price TH-73A contract was awarded on a best-value trade-off basis with a base and three one-year options”.

James F Geurts, assistant secretary of the US Navy for research, development and acquisition, said: “Today marks a great team effort to procure and deliver a helicopter trainer for the next generation of helicopter and tiltrotor pilots for the navy, marine corps and coast guard”. The US Navy states that the Leonardo Helicopers TH-73A will fulfil these advanced rotary-wing and intermediate tiltrotor training requirements until 2050.

Leonardo Helicopters will manufacture the TH-73A at its facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – which also produces the AW119. When in service, the helicopters will provide helicopter and tiltrotor pilot training to hundreds of undergraduate aviation students per year at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting Field in Milton, Florida. 

TH-57 Sea Ranger [US Navy]
Bell TH-57C Sea Ranger - BuNo 162036 (c/n 3715) - from the US Navy's Helicopter Training Squadron 8 (HT-8) on the flight line at NAS Whiting Field in Milton, Florida, in June 2019. US Navy/Lt Michelle Tucker

Capt Todd St. Laurent, Naval Undergraduate Flight Training Systems (PMA-273) programme manager, said: “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 TH-57 Sea Ranger helicopter training platform… The TH-73A will provide a modern helicopter training platform that will serve rotary and tiltrotor training requirements into the foreseeable future”.

Alessandro Profumo, CEO of Leonardo, said: “On the cusp of celebrating nearly 40 years of operating in Philadelphia, Leonardo is thrilled the US Navy has selected our TH-119-based offer and us as a local and long-term partner. We are proud to be a core contributor to the future of US [defence].”