ABOVE ATLANTA — Airbus is touting the four-axis autopilot on the company’s twin-engine H135 aircraft as a way to improve Navy training by getting student pilots ready for hazardous, night-time operations over water.
Single-axis controls the roll axis, while two-axis adds pitch, three-axis controls yaw, and the four-axis allows autopilot hover via the collective/power control.
The H135 is competing against the single-engine Bell [TXT] 407GXi and the Leonardo TH119 single-engine trainer to build 130 training helicopters to replace the Navy’s TH-57 Sea Ranger fleet by 2023. The H135 is the only competitor of the three with four-axis autopilot. It is also the only twin-engine entrant.
Final proposals are due in April, and contract award is expected in November.
“Our focus has been reducing risk for the Navy,” said Bradley Garber, a retired Navy helicopter pilot who commanded the San Diego-based Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 41 (HSM-41), the Navy’s Fleet Replacement Squadron for training MH-60R pilots and crew. “We at Airbus have a proven track record of delivering 430 UH-72 Lakota rotorcraft for the Army on time. There’s no other Category 1 [acquisition] program that’s performing at that level. In addition, Navy and U.S. Marine Corps operations call for at-night operations in bad weather over water. With four-axis autopilot, you can do that coupled hover. When I commanded HSM-41, when I got some TH-57 students into the unit, they would really struggle. The H135 should prevent that, as it’s very much like an MH-60.”
“The H135 also has the advanced Helionix avionics suite and has flown 5 million hours, 4 million of them since becoming IFR-certified in the year 2000,” Garber said.
The Bell 407GXi and Leonardo TH119 have not gained Federal Aviation Administration IFR certification yet while the H135 has been IFR certified for nearly two decades, Garber said.
The 407GXi has two-axis autopilot, while the TH119 has three-axis, and Leonardo has said that it will add four-axis after the FAA certifies the aircraft for IFR.
Sister publication Rotor & Wing International got an invitation to fly on the H135 during Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo 2019 here. During that flight on March 7, six passengers and the pilot buckled in for a trip around Atlanta. The pilot seemed to hover, point, and bank the aircraft effortlessly into the wind, and there was nearly no vibration inside. He demonstrated, hands-off, a controlled vertical takeoff, hover, banked turns and cruise controlled by turning knobs on the digital glass cockpit.
Beside its flying capabilities, the rigid main rotor on the H135 and the Fenestron® shrouded tail rotor will help dramatically reduce Navy maintenance requirements, compared to those of the aging TH-57, Airbus believes.