The first operational TH-73A training helicopter was formally handed over to the US Navy on June 10 during a ceremony, held at the AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation (Leonardo) facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
This handover marks a significant milestone in the navy’s Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) programme, through which the TH-73A was selected to replace the service’s ageing Bell TH-57B/C Sea Ranger training helicopters, which initially entered service in the late 1960s. The US Navy will eventually employ 130 TH-73As, with deliveries set to continue through to 2024, ahead of the TH-57B/C’s scheduled retirement in 2025. The new platform is intended to overcome the capability and capacity gaps of the Sea Ranger.
Vice Adm Kenneth Whitesell, commander of the US Naval Air Forces, said: “The TH-73A will be instrumental in providing higher fidelity training to our future rotary-wing and tiltrotor aviators for the navy, marine corps and coast guard. The cutting-edge technology and advanced avionics within the [AHTS] will enable a more seamless transition from the training aircraft to fleet aircraft, this in turn allows more focus on high-end warfighting development and training.”
An initial contract for the TH-73A, which covered the first 32 helicopters, was awarded to the manufacturer on January 13, 2020. A second contract was signed on November 12, 2020, and exercised options for a further 36 examples – bringing the total number of firm orders to date to 68. The platform is based on the instrument flight rules (IFR)-certified variant of the commercial AgustaWestland (now Leonardo Helicopters) AW119Kx, which has been suitably modified to meet US Navy training requirements.
Retirement of its predecessor, the TH-57B/C Sea Ranger, will begin in Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22), with completion scheduled for 2025. The new TH-73A helicopters will ensure the navy has the capacity to train several hundred aviation students per year for the Chief of Naval Aviation Training (CNATRA) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting Field in Milton, Florida. The first TH-73A will be transferred to NAS Whiting Field for use by Training Air Wing 5, following final inspections by the US Department of Defense (DoD).
During this calendar year, the US Navy is scheduled to receive a total of 32 TH-73As. The new training platforms will initially be housed in a temporary hangar at NAS Whiting Field, with the construction of a new helicopter maintenance set to begin in 2023.