Air Transportation: NH90 Makes Its Mark


July 1, 2013: France has ordered another 34 NH90 helicopters, for about $48 million each. This completes a 2007 commitment to buy 68, to replace their aging force of older helicopters. Choppers like the NH90 are desperately needed for peacekeeping operations. The ten ton NH90 can carry 21 troops or twelve casualties on stretchers, plus the crew of two. The NH90 has had a hard time competing with the American Blackhawk. It first flew in 1995. The manufacturer, NH Industries, is a consortium of French, German, Dutch, and Italian firms. The competing Blackhawk design is twenty years older than the NH90. Although the latest version of the Blackhawk is up to date technically, it is slightly smaller and lighter than the NH90 and can only carry eleven troops. Blackhawk max speed is 285 kilometers an hour and endurance is 2.1 hours. The NH90 has more powerful engines and larger fuel capacity. The big difference is in cost, with new NH90s more than twice as expensive as a new Blackhawk.

The NH90 is making some progress in the export market against American made Blackhawk transport helicopters. So far 529 NH90s have been ordered, and often they beat out Blackhawks for sales. American armed forces currently use some 2,000 Blackhawks, and hundreds more have been sold to overseas customers. The NH90 had the usual teething problems, and this led to some cancelled orders. At one point France was not going to order the second half of the 68 aircraft commitment but eventually went ahead.

For many bargain conscious nations, Russia is having continued success with its Huey era Mi8 (export versions are called Mi17). This chopper is about twice the size and weight of the UH-1 but only hauls about 50 percent more cargo. However, the Mi-8 has a larger interior and can carry 24 troops, versus a dozen in the UH-1. The UH-1 was replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s, while the Mi-8 just kept adding better engines and electronics to the basic Mi-8 frame. But the UH-60, while weighing as much as the UH-1 (4.8 tons), could carry as much as the 12 ton Mi-8. But the Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60 Blackhawk, and the larger interior is popular with many users. Nearly 3,000 Mi17s have been exported. If you want the best, you get the NH90, if you want mobility for the least cost you get the Mi17. If you want something in between, you get the UH-60. Many peacekeeping and humanitarian operations go for the Mi-17, which can be leased by East European firms.


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