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02 December 2020

Airbus/Kawasaki BK.117/H145/UH-72

Author: Richard L. Aboulafia, Drawn From: World Military & Civil Aircraft Briefing

The  BK.117 is a twin-engine six to eleven seat helicopter manufactured as a joint effort by Airbus Helicopters  (originally MBB/Deutsche Aerospace; later Eurocopter) and Kawasaki.  First flight of the  BK.117 was in June 1979. The latest version of the BK.117 is  the  C-2, also known as the H145 (formerly  EC 145, although the EC145 is still offered as a lower-cost utility  model).  A stretched derivative, the 145 features major airframe improvements relative to the 117 with many features taken from Eurocopter’s  EC 135 (now  Airbus H135; see report).  Primary uses of the series include EMS, SAR, executive transport, offshore oil, military, and police operations.  The type has also entered US Army service as the UH-72A Lakota.

The  BK.117/145 is a successful joint venture that continues to sell very well for several civil applications.   It has a particularly strong EMS presence — just over half of the demand  base.  Production had been running at a low  level — Eurocopter and  Kawasaki combined had been building less than one per month until 2007 — but with the 145/C-2 the program has shown signs of a revival. More importantly, it has become one of  the lucky platforms to win the great DoD lottery.  First, Eurocopter’s decision to develop the C-2/EC 145 version was rewarded by a French Interior Ministry order for 32,  the biggest single BK.117 order ever.  The French police took another eight. The German military is ordering even larger numbers of H145Ms, as the military variant is now known.

The next good news concerns the competition.  The internal near competitor, the H135, remains a  threat. But the MD Explorer is dead. When the program began, the Explorer looked like a real problem—in mid-1996,  Allegheny Hospital  replaced its  BK.117s  with  Explorers.  However, there are good reasons to regard AgustaWestland's AW169 as a competitive  threat.  We see it impacting H145 numbers already. Concerning the Kawasaki element of the team, the Germans felt a bit let down. Kawasaki obtained considerable helicopter technology and experience,  and then sold relatively few BK.117s. It also took a large role on the MD Explorer project. Most of the Japanese market bought Aérospatiale helicopters,  and  Japan’s OH-6 replacement is Kawasaki’s indigenous OH-1.  Still, problems  with the Explorer (and the OH-1 and Japan’s indigenous civil efforts) mean the Japanese 145 will  be  around for some time – at around two per year.

But biggest of all was the US Army LUH  win.  The  requirement and  funding for this program was strong, with a total of 326 funded (and delivered) for the initial LUH. Airbus’s execution on this contract has been stellar.  Thailand also got six, but exports have been something of a disappointment compared  with the European-built H145M. Just as the UH-72 was set to end slightly  prematurely, the Army decided to purge its Bell training helicopters and replace them with 100 more Lakotas.  There was a lot of doubt about this program, with senior DoD  officials  asking to see the rationale for this.  But now it’s a done deal, with a final batch of 35 added in March 2018, four more in the FY 2019 budget and three more in FY2020. That took the UH-72 to 479 helicopters, plus the six Thai machines. And that’s the best thing that can happen to a modest, long-lived civil helicopter.

About the Author

Richard L. Aboulafia

Richard L. Aboulafia

Richard is Vice President of Analysis at Teal Group. He manages consulting projects in the commercial and military aircraft field and analyzes broader defense and aerospace trends. He has advised numerous aerospace companies, including most prime and many second- and third-tier contractors in the US, Europe and Asia. He also advises numerous financial institutions on aerospace market conditions.

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