The Navy will be buying an additional 36 helicopters for the Advanced Helicopter Training System program at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, according to a Nov. 12 contract announcement from the U.S. Department of Defense.
NAS Whiting is a center of helicopter training for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The installation is replacing its aging fleet of TH-57A Bell Jet Ranger helicopters, which have been in use at the installation for more than 35 years, with the new TH-73A Advanced Helicopter Training System rotorcraft.
According to the Navy, the TH-73A is slated to meet training requirements for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard through 2050.
The $171 million contract announced last week — actually an expected modification of previously awarded contract — will bring the additional new TH-73A helicopters to NAS Whiting’s Training Air Wing Five from AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corp., a subsidiary of Italy-based defense manufacturer Leonardo.
The TH-73A is a military variant of AgustaWestland’s single-engine civilian AW-119 helicopter. It was chosen as the Navy’s new Advanced Helicopter Training System aircraft over other helicopters proposed for the work by Bell Textron, a Texas-based military and civilian helicopter manufacturer, and Airbus Helicopters, the rotorcraft manufacturing division of France-based aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
The Nov. 12 contract announcement comes less than a year after the Navy awarded the initial contract for the procurement of the TH-73A. The initial contract award, for $176.5 million, was announced in January and covered the purchase of 32 TH-73A helicopters, along with spare parts, support equipment and some pilot and maintenance personnel training.
The first of those helicopters had been expected to be delivered late this year, but as of this week had not arrived at NAS Whiting. Delivery now is anticipated by early next year.
Over the next four years, the contract includes provisions for the procurement of a total of 130 new helicopters through modifications like the one announced Nov. 12, bringing the possible total contract value for Leonardo to $648.1 million.
The TH-73 will be the basic training platform for student aviators who will go on to fly the Navy’s Seahawk and Knighthawk helicopters, the Coast Guard’s Dolphin and Stingray helicopters, and the Navy and Marine Corps’ MV-22, a tilt-rotor aircraft that can fly like both a fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter.
In other news with local connections regarding military helicopters, the first two HH-60W Jolly Green II combat rescue helicopters were delivered to Georgia’s Moody Air Force Base earlier this month after testing by the 413th Flight Test Squadron, part of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, and the 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron, part of the Eglin-headquartered 53rd Wing.
According to the Air Force, the primary mission of the HH-60W helicopter “will be conducting day or night operations into hostile environments to recover isolated personnel during war.”
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