KEY POINTS

  • U.S. Navy leasing civilian helicopters
  • 10 helicopters from Air Center Helicopters Inc. have been in use for multiple roles
  • Other branches of the service are looking into the program

One of the big puzzles and discoveries of this year has been the use of civilian helicopters by the U.S. Navy. The reason why this is transpiring remains a big mystery to many, until now.

First reported by Scramble Magazine, photos and a report of civilian helicopters on the USS Abraham Lincoln raised the eyebrows of many. People were left wondering why the Navy would be dealing with civilian aircraft. The helos were EC225LPs,  part of the Airbus H225 family, no small aircraft by any stretch, but they are certainly not military-grade.

The large helicopters can transport up to 24 passengers, with a top speed of 27y km/h. According to Rod Tinney, CEO of Air Center Helicopters, the helos are under contract with the Navy for transport, replenishment and evacuation missions.

The ten helicopters under contract have hauled over 3,000 flight hours in their short service. The reports also highlight that each one has been specially reconfigured to meet the requirements and specifications of the Navy.

A source with the U.S. Navy tells International Business Times that this is an experiment in cost-effective problem-solving. Many other branches of the service are expecting new fighter aircraft but there is a clear and present need for more modern helicopters. Why should the Navy build new helicopters when it can lease from the civilian side?

Part of the Super Puma family, the H225, has a twin-engine and serves commercial and government operators, clocking over 5,000,000 hours of flight time. The aircraft carry out military missions for both the Army and the Navy, flying over two oceans to three countries where there are U.S. operations and bases.

According to a report by Defense Blog, the helicopters were first introduced in 2004 as next-generation aircraft with unrivaled speed and they have been upgraded for military use.

The contractors of these helicopters for the Navy are Air Center Helicopters Inc., a company that offers transit services and also maintenance, aerial survey, photography, sightseeing and fleet aircraft. The company has branches in the states of Texas and Virginia. A total of 10 helicopters have been contracted by the Navy, with little known about the length and details of the contract, but knowing what purpose they serve is as good a start as any.

Their aircrews are specifically vetted and trained by the U.S. Navy.  This may prove to be a mutually beneficial arrangement for both the military and the private company.