UH-72 Lakota: Hot n’ High
The UH-72A Light Utility Helicopter is modified commercial EC145 helicopter adapted for military use. To date, it has represented several things. A key spinoff of the canceled RAH-66 Comanche program, representing an acknowledgment that the quantity of birds in the air has a quality all its own. A major breakthrough for European defense giant EADS in the American market, to complement Eurocopter’s pull away lead over Bell and Sikorsky (but not Robinson) in the civilian sector. A big win for Mississippi’s lobbying contingent. A model of on-budget, on-time delivery. Perhaps even the next Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter as well, given Bell’s issues with the ARH-70A’s price?
Unfortunately, the LUH has just encountered its first spot of trouble. The Associated Press reports that during flight tests in Southern California in 80-degree weather, cockpit temperatures in the UH-72A Lakota rose above 104 degrees, the designated critical point for communication, navigation and flight control systems…
A July 2007 report to the Army said that no cockpit equipment failed during testing, but the aircraft is considered “not effective for use” in hot environments until the military adds air conditioners to the helicopters. Civilian helicopters like the EC145 from which the Lakota is derived use air conditioning, and experience no problems with hot environments as a result. In contrast, military helicopters generally do not include air conditioning because adding them reduces available power, and increases their maintenance overhead.
The issue is the first example of the Army mis-estimating the factors involved in taking a commercial off the shelf helicopter and adapting it for military use – an issue that has plagued the Bell 407-derived ARH-70A helicopter almost from its inception. While the LUH program was designed to buy helicopters solely for use at home and far away from combat zones, there had been talk of changing that and creating a more flexible fleet of UH-72 helicopters that could fill various roles as needed. The latest issue, and the proposed resolution, makes that flexible fleet future less likely.
According to AP, the UH-72A helicopter also had difficulty with the requirement that it be able to evacuate 2 critically injured patients. It can carry them, but the cabin is too cramped for medics to actually work on more than one of them at a time.
Ranking House Armed Services Committee minority member Duncan Hunter [R-CA] has asked the Secretary of the Army to cancel the program in favor of buying additional UH-60 Black Hawks; but the Army has no plans to do so, or to re-open the competition. AP report, via Military.com | Defense Tech.
An enquiry to EADS North America resulted in the following response:
“None of the lakotas were fitted w/ a/c due to cabin or electronics overheating.
Aircrews were requesting additional airflow in the cabin, and we responded to the Army customer’s request by adding additional snap-vents in the door windows and a door spoiler kit, which addressed the request.
Currently, Medevac and VIP configured lakotas have a/c purely for crew comfort purposes. Nothing to do with heat load relative to electronics.”
It is possible for EADS statement, and the original report, to both be true – since no electronics actually overheated during tests. In May 2009, however, a US Army Aviation and Missile command (AMCOM) representative confirmed to DID that the UH-72 has been certified as effective for use in hot environments.