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Textron company eyes Australia in wake of Tiger helo critique

June 19, 2017 (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bell Helicopter)
LE BOURGET, France — Bell Helicopter, a Textron unit, is keen to pitch to Australia in response to reported criticism of the Airbus Helicopters Tiger attack helicopter, said Richard Harris, vice president for international military sales.

“Sure it’s a market, you bet,” he told Defense News on the first day of the Paris Air Show, when asked if Bell would pursue an order from Adelaide.

Bell is also competing in two competitions in Europe, with the results expected within six months, assuming stable political factors, he said, while declining to disclose those countries.

Poland and the Czech Republic are reported to be holding tenders to acquire new helicopters, with the latter looking to order 12 light multi-role units.

Harris was confident the design of a sealed rotorhead on its UH-1Z attack and AH-1Y combat utility helicopters could overcome maintenance problems arising from sand and harsh conditions, such as that found in Australia.

Sealing the rotor bearings “eliminates a lot of the sand intrusion,” reducing the maintenance required, he said. That design requires an inspection every 5,000 hours, whereas a conventional design needs more frequent attention. 

Click here to get full coverage from the Paris Air Show. 

A “marinized” design against intrusion of water helps, as the rotors can be hosed down to clear away sand without harming components, he said.

“Those countries with harsh conditions are extremely interested in it,” he said. “There are countries that own and operate our competitors.”

Those countries “are so thoroughly frustrated with their products that they are ready to get rid of them and buy these,” he said. “Because they are involved in such high, expensive maintenance, they are better off buying a new helicopter.”

In 2009, the U.S. Marine Corps tested the UH1-Y Huey in Afghanistan — a sandy and harsh environment — and the transport helicopter delivered 90 percent availability, he said.

There is strong interest around the world, he added, noting there is an 85 percent commonality in both Bell military helicopters, which share common maintenance, weapon systems and a glass cockpit.

The H-1Z attack helicopter can also be armed with air-to-air AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, which could be used against drones and other airborne threats, he said.

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