WASHINGTON — The newest version of the UH-72B Lakota light utility helicopter will enter the U.S. Army fleet in 2021, aircraft manufacturer Airbus announced Aug. 28 at the National Guard Association of the United States virtual trade show.
Beginning with the newest orders placed in 2020, Airbus will deliver 17 UH-72Bs next year after supplying 460 UH-72As across the Army, Navy and National Guard. In September, the last UH-72A (the 463rd) will roll off the production line in Columbus, Mississippi, according to the statement.
The “B” model will look distinctly different from the “A” variant. The aircraft is based off the Airbus H145 and will feature a Fenestron tail rotor, which the current A model does not have, according to Airbus. The B model will also have more powerful engine technology, “enhanced” controls and the Airbus Helionix avionics suite, the company said.
The new helicopter variant will go to the Army National Guard.
“Since we first began operations with the UH-72 Lakota some 15 years ago, this helicopter has been the workhorse of the Army and National Guard, saving lives, assisting in disaster relief, training thousands of pilots, and, more importantly, helping to protect our communities and our country,” Col. Calvin Lane, the Army’s project manager for utility helicopters, said in the statement. “Procuring the UH-72B Lakota provides tremendous value with no research and development costs for the Army.”
Since the program’s inception in 2006, the Army and National Guard have logged nearly 800,000 flight hours, serving as the initial entry rotary-wing training aircraft for the Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and has flown search and rescue, medical evacuation and disaster relief missions as well counter-drug operations at the Southwest border.
The Army chose to make the Lakota the primary training helicopter and retire its TH-67 aircraft when it restructured its entire aviation fleet in 2013. The decision met some resistance. Several companies like Bell Helicopter and AgustaWestland were hoping at the time to sell military training helicopters to several armed services, including the Army.
AgustaWestland, a Leonardo subsidiary, filed a lawsuit four years ago in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims over the Army’s plan to buy 16 of the aircraft for the training fleet. The court ruled in favor of AgustaWestland, and the Army was barred from buying the Lakotas. But the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision in early 2018, allowing the service to move forward in procuring Lakotas.
The current Army acquisition objective for the Lakota is 478 aircraft, according to the Army’s fiscal 2021 budget request.