UH-72A Lakota

Article excerpt

One of the most recent additions to the U.S. Army aviation fleet is the UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter (LUH).

In late 2004, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) announced its intention to issue a draft request for proposal for a full and open competitive procurement that satisfies the U.S. Army's light utility helicopter requirements. As described by government planners at the time, "The LUH will utilize a commercial off-the-shelf/nondevelopmental item aircraft to conduct light general support, civil search and rescue, personnel recovery, air ambulance medical evacuation (medevac), casualty evacuation, limited civil command-and-control operations in the conduct of homeland security, and counterdrug operations. The LUH is intended to perform these functions only in permissive, nonhostile, noncombat operational environments. The primary users for the LUH are the active Army table of distribution and allowances units and the Army National Guard."

Following government competition, in late June 2006, EADS North America announced that its UH-145 helicopter had been selected by the U.S. Army as its next-generation LUH.

Although the initial order covered eight helicopters, an identified program requirement for 322 aircraft represented a potential total program life-cycle value of more than $2 billion.

EADS North America led a UH-145 team of companies that included four primary partners: its American Eurocopter business unit, which will handle the helicopter's production, assembly and delivery; Sikorsky Aircraft, responsible for contractor logistics support; WestWind Technologies, for systems integration and engineering support; and CAE, the supplier of UH-145 cockpit procedural trainers.

The award announcement noted that the UH-145's industrial activity would be centered at American Eurocopter's Columbus, Miss., facility, which would be expanded to accommodate the LUH program: "The production line of the UH-145-a version of Eurocopter's EC145 multimission helicopter, currently built in Germany-will be duplicated in Columbus through a series of steps that begins with partial assembly, followed by full assembly and the subsequent U.S. manufacture of major subsystems."

Powered by two Turbomeca Arriel 1E2 engines with 738 shp per engine, the UH-72A has a maximum takeoff weight of 7,903 pounds (useful load 3,953 pounds), capacity for two pilots and seating for as many as eight passengers. The reconfigurable main cabin includes sliding side doors and rear clamshell doors.

In early November 2006, the team announced receipt of a second U.S. Army production order for 34 additional UH-145 light utility helicopters, bringing the total number of aircraft purchased by the Army to 42.

In addition to the order for 34 aircraft, the Army placed orders for six additional external hoist kits for use on the UH-145 and six medevac B-kits, which enable the Army to quickly reconfigure the LUH for medical transport missions from passenger or logistics configurations.

In mid-December 2006, the first UH-72A was received by the Army during delivery ceremonies in Columbus. The Army also used the event to unveil the UH-72A's official name: Lakota, which is the name of an American Indian tribe of the Great Sioux Nation.

The Army received a second Lakota by the end of 2006 and a third aircraft during January 2007, with the first three platforms assigned to the air ambulance detachment at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., where the service would conduct initial operational testing.

The program reached its first fully equipped U.S. Army unit milestone in June 2007, just 11 months after contract award, with delivery of the sixth aircraft to the air ambulance detachment. The milestone was one of the most rapid introductions of a new aircraft in service history, and followed full material release authorization from the AMCOM, confirming that the UH-72A and its production system were ready to support the LUH mission. …