The first operational US Navy TH-73A Thrasher training helicopter landed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting Field in Milton, Florida, on August 6. The helicopter - BuNo 170138 ‘E-610’ - made the two-day transit to the base from the Leonardo Helicopters facility in Philadelphia, where the aircraft was manufactured.
The helicopter will be assigned to Training Air Wing (TW) 5 and will begin replacement of the Chief of Naval Air Training’s (CNATRA) TH-57B/C Sea Ranger fleet as the undergraduate training helicopter for the US Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. CNATRA leadership welcomed the aircraft alongside representatives from Leonardo Helicopters, Vertex Aerospace, who will provide maintenance support for the TH-73A, in addition to local community leaders.
The TH-73A Helicopter Instructor Training Unit (HITU) team under TW-5 at NAS Whiting Field will use the first Thrasher to validate the modernized curriculum efforts, which is a requirement prior to training student naval aviators with the new curriculum in the new system.
Leonardo Helicopters is contracted to deliver 31 additional Thrashers this calendar year and an eventual total of 130 by 2024 before the Sea Ranger’s scheduled sundown in 2025. The new Thrashers will provide the Navy the capacity to train several hundred aviation students per year.
The TH-73A incorporates a modern avionics suite with a fully integrated flight management system, automatic flight control system and independent, digital cockpit displays at both pilot stations. It boasts increased performance in power, speed, payload and endurance over the Sea Ranger, making it comparable to current fleet aircraft. These upgrades will help bridge capability and capacity gaps to better prepare newly winged naval aviators as they transition to fleet replacement squadrons for postgraduate training.
In addition to new helicopters, the full Advanced Helicopter Training System (AHTS) includes aircrew training services that provide availability on new simulators, a modernized curriculum and a new contractor logistics support contract for Thrasher maintenance and flight line support.
CNATRA Rear Admiral Robert Westendorff said: “Using current cockpit technologies and a new training curriculum, AHTS will improve pilot training and skills and ensure rotary wing and tilt-rotor aviators are produced more efficiently at a higher quality and are ready to meet the fleet’s challenges. AHTS will meet our advanced rotary wing and intermediate tilt-rotor training requirements through 2050.”
The TH-73As will be housed in a temporary hangar at NAS Whiting Field, while construction of a new helicopter maintenance hangar on base is slated to begin in 2023. Leonardo Helicopters also recently established a TH-73A maintenance support team at Santa Rosa County’s new aviation customer service hangar at Peter Prince Airport in Milton.
Capt Holly Shoger, Naval Undergraduate Flight Training Systems Program Office (PMA-273) program manager, said: “This delivery signifies a new era for Naval Aviation training. The combined government and contractor team set new standards to meet much needed requirements in the fleet. We are proud to develop and provide these new capabilities that will improve pilot training for many years to come."
Cmdr Dustin Robbins, TW-5 AHTS Fleet Integration Team (FIT) officer in charge, said: “The simple cockpit design and layout, pushbutton and toggle switch interface, advanced navigation and communication capabilities, and rapid control response make it the ideal training aircraft and the perfect stepping stone to any service rotary wing platform. With its all-digital cockpit and fully integrated Flight Management System coupled with superior power and speed margins, the TH-73A is a lot of fun to fly.”
PMA-273 at Naval Air Systems in Patuxent River, Maryland, oversees the AHTS and TH-73A, and will determine the final disposition of the 35-year-old TH-57 Sea Ranger, which is scheduled to sundown from fiscal years 2022 through to 2025.
The TH-73A Thrasher is named after the brown thrasher, a bird common to the skies over the Southeastern US, including Northwest Florida. The inconspicuous, yet territorial, bird is a fearless defender known for its low-level flying prowess.
TW-5 comprises three primary fixed-wing and three advanced helicopter squadrons and trains aviators from the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force and allied nations. Headquartered at NAS Corpus Christi, CNATRA compromises five training air wings in Florida, Mississippi and Texas, which are home to 17 training squadrons. In addition, CNATRA oversees the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels and the training curriculum for all fleet replacement squadrons.