Airbus Helicopters has received a order from Germany for the retrofit of 26 CH-53 heavy transport helicopters. This contract cover replacement of components that are no longer available on the market. In stead, Airbus Helicopters will begin replacing them with up-to-date parts.
The retrofit will guarantee the helicopters’ operation until at least 2030. The process will start in 2017 and should be completed by 2022. Work will be carried out in Donauwörth at Airbus Helicopters’ Military Support Center Germany.
Airheadsfly.com visited the same facility last year, and witnessed how one CH-53 was completely dismantled and inspected for signs of fatigue. The current German fleet consist of forty CH-53GA (Germany Advanced) and 26 older CH-53G models, adding up to 66 in total.
“This order enables both the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) and also our Donauwörth plant to plan ahead with certainty,” said Wolfgang Schoder, CEO of Airbus Helicopters Deutschland. “
Airbus Helicopters has been the German specialist for maintaining, repairing and modernising heavy transport helicopters for decades. We have the necessary infrastructure, highly trained professionals and can guarantee supply for all Bundeswehr models.”
Airbus Helicopters on Friday 29 April handed over the first two H145M multi role helicopters to the Royal Thai Navy. The helicopters – five in total – will enter service in Thailand at the end of 2016 following initial pilot training Germany. The Royal Thai Army has also ordered the type.
The H145M is the military version of the civil H145 and an be used for a wide range of military operations including naval, utility, reconnaissance, search and rescue, medical evacuation and armed scout. The Royal Thai Navy helos are equipped with Multi-Purpose Pylons incl. aerodynamic fairings, cargo hooks, hoists, HF system for SAR operations, weather radar, internal long range fuel tank system and fixed provisions for future special operations upgrade.
Thailand was the second nation to order the H145M, following in the footsteps of Germany. The German Special Forces will receive 15 of these helicopters in a custom configuration.
The two H145M helicopters now delivered to Thailand, will stay in Germany for pilot training at Airbus Helicopters’ Training Academy. A third helicopter will b delivered soon. All helicopters are scheduled for delivery in Thailand by September this year.
Fifteen more years of useful service. In 2010, that was the goal of an Airbus Helicopters modification program for German Air Force CH-53G Stallion heavy transport helicopters. Over the past years, these green giants have been getting modernized cockpits, new avionic and warfare suites and countless other upgrades.
The end is near for the modification program, delivering fourty modernized helicopters to the German Air Force. They are known as CH-53GA, signifying ‘Germany Advanced’. As it should.
In the Airbus Helicopters Military Support Center (MSC) in Donauwörth, Germany, well over a dozen Sikorsky CH-53s receive attention. Among them are the last of fourty of these airborne workhorses to be upgraded to CH-53GA. When done, the upgrade shows itself by no uncertain means in the cockpit, where avionics and communications systems almost identical to those used in the NH90 and Tiger attack helicopter, present themselves to awaiting pilots. All is contained in a completely new glass cockpit.
With five multi-function displays, the new cockpit is miles away from the analogue workplace it used to be. “We’re taking out all the old mechanical instruments and we put in multifunctional displays that provide the crew with enormous flexibility and increased efficiency”, says Michael Hoofdmann, head of programs at the MSC.
A huge upgrade is the newly designed four-axis autopilot with auto-hover automatic flight control system that is similar to the NH90’s auto pilot. An electronic warfare system for threat recognition and electronic self-protection protects crews in hostile environments. A forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensor turret is also part of the update.
The first modernized Stallion was handed back to the German Air Force in 2012, close to four decades after the first of 110 helicopters were introduced in German service. Externally, the CH-53GA lacks the big fuel tanks that identified the past CH-53GS update, a program that mainly served to add personnel recovery and extraction capabilities. An internal fuel tank has been installed in the latest variant instead.
The current German fleet consist of forty CH-53GA and 26 remaining CH-53GS/GE helicopters (of which 20 GS and 6 GE), adding up to 66 in total. To examine the remaining service life, one CH-53G has been completely dismantled and inspected for signs of fatigue at Donauwörth. The fleet saw extensive use over the last decades, deploying to Afghanistan and Kosovo. In the same timeframe, all remaining helicopters were transferred from the Germany Army to the German Air Force. The NH90 took the CH-53’s place in the Army.
Updated or not, truth is the Stallion is in the twilight of its career. Berlin is looking at its options, being either the CH-47F Chinook or… the CH-53K. The ‘Kilo’ is the latest incarnation of the Stallion, seeing its first flight just last year. There is no road map yet for a purchase, but it seems likely the Germans will decide on a new heavy transport helicopter in the next two or three years. Deliveries are still at least six years away.
Until then, the CH-53GA is the tool of the trade when it comes to heavy helicopter transport in Germany. “They are now state of the art again”, concludes Michael Hoofdmann. “No more upgrades needed for these helicopters.”
An Airheadsfly.com visit to Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth on Friday 22 January produced the very first picture of the first NH90 Sea Lion helicopter for the Germany Navy. The helicopter is currently in final assembly and along with 17 others and from 2019 onwards, replaces the Sea King helos still in use with the Marine.
The first Sea Lion entered final assembly in October and is now having its electrical harnesses fitted, after which avionics and initial mission equipment will be installed. The helicopter is expected to fly for the first time in November 2016.
The naval variant differs from German Army NH90s as it has a stronger landing gear for deck landings, plus provisions for the installation of a full anti-submarine warfare (ASW) kit and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) kit. The German government still has to decide on the exact specifications, though. The Netherlands, France, Italy, Norway and Sweden already operate ASW-versions of the NH90.
Search and rescue
In 2019, the Sea Lion will be ready to take over search and rescue (SAR) plus transport and support duties from the Sea King, the oldest of which dates back to 1973. At a later stage, the new NH90 should be ready also to take over the ASW and ASuW role from current Super Lynx helos.
The last of 18 Sea Lions – total estimated cost 1.4 billion EUR – is to be delivered in 2022. Airbus Helicopters will slightly push production tempo in Donauwörth a bit to over ten NH90 helicopters per year. These also include the remaining NH90s for the German army, plus more ASW-variants for Sweden. Worldwide, 35 to 50 NH90s are manufactured yearly.
The NH90 has suffered from a bad reputation in Germany over maintenance and reliability issues. Airbus Helicopters is now retrofitting early production helicopters with the latest configuration including software and other upgrades. The company also says it is now getting good and positive feedback from NH90-pilots.
The federal-state police of Baden-Württemberg took delivery of the very first H145 in police configuration at Airbus Helicopters’ industrial site in Donauwörth, on monday 19 October. The aircraft is the first of an order of six to be handed over to the launch customer.
“It is of the utmost importance for our police to be able to rely on the quality of their resources in order to meet the challenges of their daily missions. With the acquisition of a total of six new police helicopters we guarantee the high quality standards of the squadron”, said Reinhold Gall, Minister of the Interior of Baden-Württemberg. The H145 features all-in-one capabilities: deployment of Special Forces units, VIP transport, external load, as well as observation and reconnaissance. It is equipped with a modern mission management system that facilitates the multi-role capabilities in police missions. The MMS, in combination with comprehensive connectivity options such as LTE and Wi-Fi, makes the aircraft the most modern police helicopter on the market. Its primary surveillance mission is supported by forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and daylight cameras, controlled by an on-board operator who also handles communications and data exchange with ground-based police resources.
As one of the three largest German States in size and population, comprising the major cities of Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Freiburg and Mannheim, the helicopter will cover an area of roughly 36,000 km2 . The federal-state police of Baden-Württemberg currently have a fleet of two EC155 and six MD902, which is to be succeeded by the H145. Police forces throughout the country will soon be operating an all-Airbus Helicopters rotorcraft fleet.