Lockheed & MD Helicopter Team Up for Light Utility Helicopter Bid
DID’s coverage of the USA’s recent $2.2 billion contract for 368 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters (ARH) noted that MD Helicopters, Inc. (MDHI) had submitted a losing bid in conjunction with Boeing, but intended to bid on the upcoming Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) contract. Boeing’s multi-million February 2005 investment had helped keep MDHI solvent prior to its recent acquisition by Patriarch Partners LLC, and the MD-900 Explorer variant the company wished to offer used to be a McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) machine.
Nevertheless, MDHI has now announced that its partner for the LUH bid will be Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, NY. Lockheed will in fact lead the team as prime contractor, overseeing aircraft assembly at MDHI’s production facility in Mesa, AZ, and providing training, simulation devices and contractor logistics support.
The LUH is intended to replace Vietnam era UH-1H Hueys and OH-58A/C Kiowa aircraft in the U.S. Army and National Guard, though the US Marine Corps will continue to fly the modernized UH-1Y Huey and the DEA(Drug Enforcement Agency) is likely to retain many of its OH-58s. The LUH will fill the niche missions in which the Army’s standard UH-60 Black Hawk‘s size, capability, and operating expense may be less than optimal.
The intent is to acquire a Commercial-Off-the-Shelf (COTS)/ Non-Developmental Item (NDI) aircraft that is Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) Type Standard Certified, and produce approximately 320 new LUH helicopters between 2006-2015. They will perform a wide range of general support missions in the United States and overseas, including transport of personnel and supplies, disaster relief operations, medical evacuation, reconnaissance, drug interdiction and homeland security.
The Lockheed-MDHI team’s platform of choice for the LUH competition will be a derivative of the MD-900 Explorer helicopter with its patented NOTAR (NO TAil Rotor) technology (See a full cutaway schematic in PDF).
The FAA-certified MD Explorer uses twin Pratt & Whitney Canada 207E turbine engines, and provides Instrument Flight Rules capability for day, night and night vision goggle operations. A crashworthy frame, fully articulated main rotor system with bearingless composite flexbeams and rotor hub, energy absorbing crew seating and a crash-resistant fuel system meet LUH requirements.
With 30 square feet of usable flat floor, MDHI claims that the aircraft has the largest cabin in the light twin class, with space for 6-8 passengers. This large cabin and rear entry door also assist in rapid role changes, and its existing use in the law enforcement role and by the U.S. Coast Guard (MH-90) means that large selections of optional equipment have been fully qualified to meet various operational requirements. A heavy-duty cargo hook permits 3,000 lb. (1,360 kg) external load operations.
MDHI estimates [pdf} the MD-900’s total operating costs at approximately $400 per hour.
The MD-900 Explorer also features the patented NOTAR system in place of the traditional tail rotor blades. Besides reducing pilot workload, helicopter operating costs, and external noise levels, the system enables the MD Explorer to fly more safely in confined areas that may even be off-limits to other helicopters.
Those external noise levels matter, as this Christian Science Monitor article about the American experiences in Afghanistan notes. With a noise signature to only 300 meters, NOTAR LUH helicopters on the non-linear battlefield may be better equipped to avoid detection and targeting and preserve the element of surprise, especially under circumstances like night missions.
As noted earlier, a modified version of the MD-900 is currently in service with the U.S. Coast Guard under the designation MH-90 Enforcer. Their NOTARs’ lower noise signature has also proven very useful in naval operations like “Operation New Frontier,” which employs armed MH-90 helicopters and high-speed smallboats to track and stop small, high-speed smuggling vessels known as “go-fasts.” The helicopters use their stealth and speed to advantage, and can deploy state-of-the-art, non-lethal weapons like sting grenades and nets to stop these fleeing vessels; the latest deployments also include enhanced capabilities for night-time operations.
At this point, the MD-900 Explorer’s main competition for the LUH is expected to be the Bell 210, an FAA-certified version of the Bell UH-1H that has been modernized using new technologies and all new Bell certified parts. Increased performance, reliability and low cost were the goals, with modifications that yielded up to 39% increase in IGE hover ceiling on a standard day, over 275% increase in IGE hover ceiling in very hot conditions, and more payload than its UH-1H predecessor at a significantly reduced cost of operations.
The Bell 210 operates at 42% less per hour than the current UH-1H Huey and just 1/4 the cost of the UH-60 Black Hawk. It may also be promoted as offering expertise, support and maintenance commonalities with the winning ARH machine, which will be a variant of the commercial Bell 407 helicopter.