May 11, 2011 Tony Skinner, SHEPARD GROUP
Istanbul - Project officials are confident that the crash of an A129 Mangusta attack helicopter in March 2010 has caused no delay to the Turkish T129 Attack and Tactical Reconnaissance Helicopter (ATAK) programme.
Speaking to Shephard at the IDEF exhibition in Istanbul, representatives of the companies overseeing the various elements of the project were adamant that development was progressing as per the originally agreed schedule.
The Turkish Land Forces Command will receive 51 T129 helicopters from 2013, with the aircraft jointly produced in Turkey by Turkish Aerospace Industries and AgustaWestland, with Aselsan providing the electronics, forward-looking infrared sensor, cockpit avionics and mission computer, and Roketsan the weapons system.
While the cause of the crash is still under investigation, an industry source said it was a ‘very specific event' related to the individual aircraft, which had been heavily used in recent years.
The aircraft was described as an ‘international prototype' by AgustaWestland - as opposed to a T129 prototype - and was replaced by a loaned Italian Army Mangusta for the early configuration trials.
However, the company claims the crash had no effect on the three Turkish-specific T129 prototypes developed in Italy, which are currently flying in preparation for certification activities.
The first of three prototypes built in Turkey, P6, will start ground tests by the end of May and flight tests in mid-2011. These aircraft will feature the final Turkish avionics configuration and weapons suite.
At IDEF, Aselsan displayed the T129 mock-up it is using for systems integration trials and showcased the capabilities of the aircraft's AselFLIR-300T thermal imaging and targeting system working together with the AVCI Helmet Integrated Cueing System (HICS). A spokesman for the company said that as the system employs cockpit cameras for head tracking, the T129 model had been essential in integrating the HICS with the platform.
Aselsan is developing all the mission software and applications, ensuring the source codes are retained domestically, and is designing the package around the DO178B standard, according to the spokesman.
Meanwhile, the first delivery of nine early supplemental A129 helicopters to the TLFC remains on track for 2012.
TAI test pilot Gökahn Korkmaztürk said the aircraft have been ordered to fill operational needs in the near term and feature a simpler weapons suite, non-Turkish avionics and less powerful engines.
‘The nine aircraft will have less capability in the engine, and some of the avionics and armaments systems but they will be upgraded in the long term. They won't feature the anti-tank missiles, for example, but as they will be on operations in eastern Turkey this is not an issue,'
Korkmaztürk said the Light Helicopter Turbine Engine Company CTS800-4A engine had been chosen for the full T129 ATAK aircraft due to the ‘hot and high' conditions in the east of the country.
To highlight the demands in the mountainous region, he recounted an engagement he made as a Cobra attack helicopter pilot, firing a rocket at a target when he was at 13,000 feet.
‘US pilots asked me why I fired at such a height and whether it was because I was under attack but the target itself was at 12,000 feet. That's how high we were.'