First Turkish helicopter on way, analysts skeptical

First Turkish helicopter on way, analysts skeptical

Burak BEKDİL Hürriyet Daily News
First Turkish helicopter on way, analysts skeptical

Turkey selected Sikorsky Aircraft in 2011 as its partner company to lead production of the country’s next-generation utility helicopters. DHA photo

The Turkish government has eventually penned the contract that tasks the country’s aerospace powerhouse, TAI, to launch work to design, develop and produce what will become the first made-in-Turkey helicopter, but defense analysts remain skeptical.

Although lighter in weight, at about five tons, the new helicopters are aimed to replace Turkey’s ageing inventory of UH-1 helicopters and could also be used to train army pilots.

TAI hopes to build a platform designed by Turkish engineers with customized subsystems that can also compete on international markets with its performance and price. The first ever indigenous Turkish helicopter would be sold to the Turkish military first, and then to international markets.

TAI officials expect to sell around 800 helicopters to the Turkish military and about 400 to foreign buyers. Turkey presently is the world’s ninth biggest helicopter market.

The national program had been launched in June 2010, and TAI submitted its bid to act as the local prime contractor last October. TAI’s five-ton, twin engine “light” helicopter would meet the Turkish military requirements in the medium- and long-run, but also will have a civilian model for the commercial market.

Possible technology transfer from Sikorsky

Turkey intends to use the know-how and technology transfers it would earn from a U.S. Sikorsky-led utility helicopter program. In May, TAI announced that it came very near to signing a $3.5 billion contract with Sikorsky Aircraft for the coproduction of scores of utility helicopters.

Turkey in 2011 selected Sikorsky Aircraft as its partner company to lead production of the country’s next-generation utility helicopters. Sikorsky defeated Italian-British AgustaWestland with its T-70, the Turkish version of its S-70 Black Hawk International.

A contract has been pending since then and industry sources rumored major problems during contract negotiations. The first batch of the coproduction program involved 109 platforms. The S-70 Black Hawk International is used by the militaries of dozens of countries, including Turkey. AgustaWestland was competing with its TUHP 149, the Turkish version of its newly developed A-149.

The first batch will be for 109 utility helicopters, but with follow-on orders more than 600 platforms could be built at a cost of more than $20 billion, according to defense analysts.

Sikorsky and AgustaWestland had announced benefit packages worth billions of dollars each. Several Turkish companies, most notably TAI, will take part in the joint production.

A Sikorsky official said on Friday that the contract was still pending.

Analysts doubt

Industry sources and analysts say that Turkish ambitions to build the country’s first national helicopter may face several hurdles.

One senior TAI engineer voiced suspicion about the certification for the Turkish helicopter. “Honestly, I am not sure how remote we stand from certification or how hard obtaining it would be.”

An Ankara-based defense analyst said the major hurdle could be the engine. “TAI does not have specific plans to overcome the problem about the engine which is not an unusual snag in most Turkish indigenous programs. Apparently, the Turkish helicopter will be dependent on a non-Turkish engine and nobody knows which one would best fit,” he said.

He added: “From a realistic point of view, I would expect a slew of problems regarding costs and timeframe.”

TAI officials hope to fly their own helicopter within five years.