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UH-72 Lakota Could Be a Candidate for Air Force Duty

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The UH-72 Lakota, a utility helicopter that’s increasingly familiar at U.S. Army bases, could eventually join the Air Force as a replacement for the much-loved but very old  UH-1N Twin Huey.

A UH-1N from the 1st Helicopter Squadron flies between the U.S. Air Force Memorial and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The UH-1N's primary missions include airlift of emergency security and disaster response forces, emergency evacuation of key government officials, and airlift for distinguished visitors and missile support personnel. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Perry Aston

A UH-1N from the 1st Helicopter Squadron flies between the U.S. Air Force Memorial and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The UH-1N’s primary missions include airlift of emergency security and disaster response forces, emergency evacuation of key government officials, and airlift for distinguished visitors and missile support personnel. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Perry Aston

The Air Force has long wanted a UH-1N replacement, but in recent years has always needed to put other procurement needs higher up on its priorities list. “We can’t have everything we want or even everything we need,” said then-Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley in an interview in 2006, when budget coffers were fatter than they are today. Together with prospects for replacement of the HH-60G Pave Hawk and the T-38C Talon, plans for a UH-1N stand-in have been stalled.

Since 2006, an ongoing program called Common Vertical Lift Support Platform, or CVLSP, has been the Air Force’s approach to a UH-1N replacement and has enabled acquisitions experts to refine concepts and numbers. The program is currently dormant, but helicopter industry officials say CVLSP will eventually be revived minus the notional unit cost of $20 million per airframe that was one of its concepts but was later deemed to be too expensive. For now, no funding exists to pursue a UH-1N replacement.

 

“N” Model Numbers

The CVLSP program called for 93 new-build aircraft. The Air Force has 62 Twin Hueys, many of which were purchased in fiscal year 1969 in the middle of the Vietnam era.

The service uses 25 Twin Hueys to provide security at the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile sites and 19 at Joint Base Andrews, Md., to evacuate Washington-based government officials in an emergency. These represent the two key missions shouldered by the aging helo: the Air Force also has 18 UH-1Ns scattered in training and test units.

In May 2012, EADS North America forwarded information on the UH-72A Lakota — a military version of the Eurocopter EC-145 — to Air Force officials, making the aircraft a candidate for a CVLSP contract. The company assembles the UH-72A in Columbus, Miss., and has delivered 254 to the Army, including 48 in 2012 and 39 scheduled for 2013.

A Florida National Guard UH-72A Lakota participates in a personnel recovery exercise, May 2, 2011. The Lakota is a newly fielded light helicopter meant to perform peacetime missions traditionally issued to the UH-60 Black Hawk. It could be conducting similar missions in the future for the U.S. Air Force. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Aaron Leblanc

A Florida National Guard UH-72A Lakota participates in a personnel recovery exercise, May 2, 2011. The Lakota is a newly fielded light helicopter meant to perform peacetime missions traditionally issued to the UH-60 Black Hawk. It could be conducting similar missions in the future for the U.S. Air Force. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Aaron Leblanc

Already taken aloft by more than 750 Army pilots, the UH-72A uses two Turbomeca Arriel 1E2 turbine engines with 704 shaft horsepower and has a main rotor diameter of 42 feet 9 inches, enabling it to fit “just about anywhere,” the company says. Maximum speed: 145 knots. The Army acquired the UH-72A as a replacement for the single-engine UH-1H Huey for use in permissive environments — not on the battlefield — but its maker says it’s robust enough to serve anywhere.

EADS vice president, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Coolidge told Defense Media Network: “The Lakota significantly outperforms the UH-1N, with 30 percent greater speed, range, and loiter time, and very good hot/high performance. It is reliable and crashworthy, and has a night vision-compatible cockpit with modern avionics. What’s more, it’s only $5.5 million per unit, can be quickly procured and fielded, and is less expensive to operate than the existing UH-1N.” Other engine choices and additional features are available for an Air Force version, Coolidge said, including the extended tail boom and a 10-blade Fenestron tail-rotor offered on the company’s EC-145 T2 demonstrator.

Other potential candidates for a CVLSP contract include the Agusta Westland AW-139 and the UH-1Y, the new-built derivative of the Twin Huey now enjoying a successful new era of service with the Marine Corps. As an interim measure, the Air Force in 2011 received $53 million to upgrade 22 surplus Marine Corps UH-1Ns that would be transferred to the service. This stopgap effort has been stalled in recent months and officials say they do not know when or whether the transfer will take place.

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...