The first UH-72A Lakota produced in training configuration for the U.S. Army has rolled off the Airbus Helicopters assembly line in Columbus, Mississippi, in preparation for its delivery to Fort Rucker, Alabama, where instructor training is getting underway.

Under its budget-driven Aviation Restructuring Initiative, the Army is retiring its Bell TH-67 Creek initial rotary-wing training fleet and replacing it with 187 UH-72As. By training pilots from the outset on the twin-turbine, glass-cockpit Lakota, the Army is hoping for a more efficient transition to the Boeing AH-64 Apache, CH-47 Chinook and Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk in its operational fleet.

When the Army decided to retire the TH-67, it increased its procurement objective for the UH-72A light utility helicopter to 427 from 352. The aircraft being delivered this week is the first of 106 to be produced in training configuration. Another 81 will be active Army UH-72As modified to the training role.

The modification is limited, says John Burke, Airbus Helicopters Lakota program manager, and includes adding an observer seat between the pilot seats, a buzz number to clearly identify each helicopter, and removing equipment not required for the training mission. “It’s a simpler design,” he says.

After this delivery, Fort Rucker will have 14 UH-72As, Burke says, including some aircraft used for medical evacuation. All 25 Lakotas to be delivered this year will be in the training configuration, he says.

Fort Rucker is using the aircraft delivered to validate the training syllabus and train the instructor pilots, with the first student class to receive initial rotary-wing training on the UH-72A scheduled for 2016. Two cockpit procedures trainers have been delivered to Fort Rucker to support flying training.

With the Army selecting a multi-engine helicopter for initial training, Airbus Helicopters is looking for other potential customers, including the U.S. Air Force, which operates around 25 Bell UH-1Ns at Fort Rucker for helicopter pilot training.

The company also has briefed the U.S. Navy on options to replace its Bell TH-57 training helicopters, Burke says. These include the single-engine AS350, H135 light twin and the heavier UH-72A. The Naval Test Pilot School already operates five Lakotas.

The training role also could boost prospects for foreign military sales of the UH-72A, beyond six aircraft scheduled for shipping to Thailand in April. “Half a dozen countries have shown interest in [the UH-72A],” Burke says, adding about half have requested a formal response.