The new training helicopters for Fort Rucker flight students have been arriving at the Southeast Alabama post this week, but it will be a while before they are integrated into the fleet.
Fort Rucker spokesman Lisa Eichhorn said Friday that some UH-72A Lakotas have begun arriving at the post this week.
Helicopter manufacturer Airbus announced this week the first helicopter to come off the company’s production line had been flown to Fort Rucker. Seven other existing UH-72A Lakotas had previously been modified for training and sent to Fort Rucker, the company said in a written release.
The helicopters are being produced in the northeast Mississippi city of Columbus.
The UH-72A Lakotas have been selected by the Army to replace the Bell TH-67 Jet Rangers as the Army’s initial training helicopter. Eichhorn said there is a plan to integrate the Lakotas, but the plan ranges all the way to the 2019 fiscal year, so TH-67s will remain a part of the fleet for some time.
“We’re making the necessary important investments to ensure a successful transition of the Lakota into training operations at Fort Rucker,” Marc Paganini, president and CEO of Airbus Helicopters Inc., said in a written release. “We’re honored that future Army aviators will begin their flying careers at the controls of the Lakota.”
Opinions in the aviation community were mixed as to whether the training fleet change would be an upgrade from the current Jet Rangers, or whether the change would result in a cost savings. The Lakota is a twin engine aircraft and the Jet Ranger is single engine. It is also likely that new maintenance contracts would have to be negotiated.
However, Bell no longer makes the TH-67 and repair has been an issue.