Leonardo Prepares UK Production Line Ahead Of NMH Contest

Credit: Leonardo

FARNBOROUGH—Leonardo Helicopters has begun work to establish a UK production line for the AW149 super medium helicopter it is proposing for the UK’s £1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) New Medium Helicopter (NMH) requirement.

The company has ordered tooling to support the creation of the line at its facility in Yeovil, England, and could be ready to build helicopters by year-end if required, even though the competitive program has only just been launched by the UK Defense Ministry. The company believes that the preparatory work will make its bid even more competitive, enabling the 8.6-ton rotorcraft to enter service as early as 2025.

Speaking in front of the AW149 on Leonardo’s stand here at Farnborough, Norman Bone, the chairman and chief executive of Leonardo in the UK, says the decision to begin ordering tooling and preparing the production facilities was “evidence” of the company’s commitment to “deliver the best onshore offer for the NMH program.”

He says the facilities would ensure that the company could meet the British government’s wish to bring the aircraft into service by 2025.

Work was also underway on the training of engineers, says Bone, who adds that the AW149 line at Yeovil will lean off the site’s experience in building the AW189. Several examples of that rotorcraft were assembled from kits to support UK search and rescue operators Bristow and British International Helicopters.

Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo also reveals that production of the AW149 could also be transferred out of Italy should the type be chosen by the UK. Leonardo has established an assembly line in Poland to support Warsaw’s recent $1.82 billion contract to acquire 32 AW149 for a range of battlefield missions. The Polish order is the first AW149 order to be formally declared by the OEM; orders from Egypt and Thailand have not been officially announced yet.

Leonardo has also revealed it has taken the AW149 through an extensive weapons-firing campaign using the aircraft present at the show. The trials—at an undisclosed test range—saw the firing of 200 guided and unguided rockets in a range of flight configurations and in day and night conditions. The trials are believed to support a weapons capability for aircraft destined for Egypt, but such a configuration could be added to the proposed UK aircraft.

The UK’s NMH program is expected to replace four rotorcraft types in the UK inventory including the Royal Air Force’s Airbus Puma Mk.2 and Bell 412s, and the British Army’s Bell 212 and Airbus Dauphin fleets.

The UK formally launched the program in May, calling for the acquisition of up to 44 commercial/military off-the-shelf rotorcraft with initial service entry expected by January 2025.

The NMH contract will also likely include flight simulation and training devices, training courses and a five-year initial in-service support package.

Leonardo is one of several publicly revealed bidders for the program. Other competitors include Airbus Helicopters—which is proposing its H175M super-medium that would be supplied from an assembly line established in North Wales—and Sikorsky, which is proposing Polish-made S-70M Black Hawks. NHIndustries may formally propose the NH90, while UK startup AceHawk Aerospace is proposing refurbished second-hand Black Hawks to be modified in Teesside.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.