Leonardo wins $176 bid for US Navy helicopter programme


Leonardo’s TH-119 has been selected as the US Navy’s new training helicopter – beating bids from Bell and Airbus for the $176m deal.

The US Navy invited OEMs to compete for a contract to supply replacements for its training fleet of Bell TH-57 Sea Rangers. Leonardo won the contract, with its TH-119; beating Bell’s light single-engine 407GXi and Airbus’s light twin-engine H135.

Winning the contract gives Leonardo a base order of 32 aircraft with three one-year option extensions for more helicopters. The 32-aircraft order is valued at $176.5m, with the total contract valued at $648.1m for 130 aircraft if all options are fulfilled.

The new helicopter will be the training aircraft for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard through to 2050. Deliveries are scheduled to begin this year and end in 2024.

The helicopter model – which will be classified as TH-73A by the Navy – will be assembled at Leonardo’s Philadelphia facility. The core 32-helicopter order is expected to be completed by October 2021.

Leonardo’s Philadelphia facility

Given the slump in core civil market, particularly for rotorcraft servicing the oil and gas market, the consistency and large order numbers offered by defence customers are more desirable than ever for Helicopter OEMs. Many helicopter models are designed to be suitable for a large variety of missions.

A Leonardo spokesperson told Helicopter Investor: “The military is very important, and we’ve obtained excellent results in recent years with these specialised and dual-use platform solutions. Civil certified products enable us to maintain a competitive position also for some military requirements.”

The TH-119 is based on the civil AW119 Koala platform. The light single-engine helicopter was introduced in 2000 and sees use in law enforcement and utility markets. The TH-119 was awarded Instrument-Flight Rule certification in July 2019 – becoming the first single-engine helicopter to earn the certification.

Law enforcement and utility markets

Gian Piero Cutillo, MD of Leonardo Helicopters said: “Today’s brilliant news is a ringing endorsement for our solutions setting new industry standards for training. We are committed to working with the U.S. Navy to ensure future pilots meet all evolving service requirements.”

The US military has been responsible for some of the largest helicopter deals over recent years and there’s fierce competition between OEMs to win contracts.

Leonardo also secured a joint contract with Boeing to replace the US Air Force’s UH-1N Huey fleet with the MH-139, which is based on Leonardo’s civil AW139, in September 2018. The Air Force plans to purchase 84 of MH-139s throughout the next decade.

The Air Force received the first MH-139A on 19 December 2019.