COLUMBUS, Miss.Airbus Helicopters is delivering two UH-72A Lakota training helicopters per month from its plant here to the U.S. Army under a program that has delivered 444 Lakotas for the Army since 2006.

Airbus officials said that the UH-72A, a version of the company’s H145, represents a rarity for Pentagon Acquisition Category 1 (ACAT 1) programs, as it has met time, cost and quality expectations.

The Army has used the UH-72A for missions including training at Fort Rucker, Ala., air medical transport, search and rescue, and Army National Guard support of Customs and Border Protection operations. In addition, the Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Md., operates five Lakotas.

Beside building new Lakotas, Airbus performs UH-72A upgrade work in Columbus, including the installations of Cockpit Voice and Flight Data Recorders (CVFDR), which the company has been retrofitting on UH-72As at a rate of about three per month since last year.

At a briefing here, Airbus Helicopters President Romain Trapp said that the company also looks forward to the introduction of the H160M for military markets and that Airbus expects to deliver its first H160M by 2026. The commercial H160 is to receive certification by the end of the year, according to the company.

The French Armed Forces recently announced an acceleration of their acquisition timeline for its Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger (HIL), or joint light helicopter program, now scheduled to launch in 2021.

The HIL aircraft, for which Airbus Helicopters’ H160M was selected in 2017, is now slated to be operational by 2026. It has a 76 percent market share in the commercial and civil markets in North America.

In North America, Airbus Helicopters has about 500 military helicopters in operation and 2,600 commercial helicopters among some 800 operators. The company said that it has invested $58 billion in the last five years with U.S. and Canadian suppliers.

Trapp said that the H160 will be “a game changer for the helicopter industry in the United States.” While the light helicopter market has been Airbus Helicopters’ strength in the U.S. and the medium market the company’s weakness, the H160 represents a turnaround opportunity for that market segment, he said.

The H160 will feature a number of innovations, including a full composite airframe and Blue Edge blades to reduce noise. Those aboard the H160 will be able to talk without headsets, Trapp said.

“We’re bringing airplane comfort into the helicopter world,” he said.