NH90 is expected to be the 21st century helicopter, made mostly from composite, very flexible, easy to control and maintain at low cost.
As part of NATO’s program of manufacturing Europe’s most advanced helicopters, the NH90 will replace the older generation helicopters including the UH-1, Puma, Lynx, and Sea King.
The program to build the new helicopter was planned in 1985 with the participation of France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The NH90 was developed in response to NATO requirements for a battlefield helicopter which would also be capable of being operated in naval environments.
It was developed and is manufactured by NHIndustries, a collaborative company, which is owned by Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo and Fokker Aerostructures. The first prototype conducted its maiden flight in December 1995; the type first entered operational service in 2007. As of July 2019, the NH90 has logged 185,000 flight hours in the armed forces of thirteen nations.
The NH90 has the distinction of being the first production helicopter to feature entirely fly by wire flight controls. There are two main variants, the Tactical Transport Helicopter for army use and the navalised NATO Frigate Helicopter; each customer typically has various alterations and customisations made to their own NH90 fleets, such as different weapons, sensors and cabin arrangements, to meet their own specific requirements.
Benefitting from a modern approach to materials, the NH90’s composite fuselage has fewer parts and a lower structural weight, resulting in 30% more endurance compared to a metallic fuselage, plus increased resistance to battle damage, among other benefits. The composite rotor blades have greater fatigue strength, damage tolerance and component lifetimes, as well as improved aerodynamic performance.
Versatile and compact, with a length of 19.56m, width of 4.62m and a height of 5.2m, it is small enough to fit in the hangar of a NATO frigate, but with a cabin volume to accommodate 20 fully-equipped troops or more than 2,500kg of cargo.
Its wide modular cabin, large sliding doors on each side and a rear ramp make it the most accessible military helicopter available. The modular cabin design allows the operators to perform modifications according to their specific missions and roles.
The flight envelope of the NH90 is capable of all-weather day-and-night operations, ship-borne operations during high sea states, in extreme conditions – from the cold arctic to the hot desert, and up to a maximum altitude of 6000m.
Power is provided by a pair of turboshaft engines, dependent on customer selection, the NH90 is either fitted with Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 or General Electric T700E powerplants.
NH90 has a maximum speed of 300km/h and a range of 800km with internal fuel, it can fly for up to 4.45 hours on internal fuel. The rate of climb of the helicopter is 8m/s, the maximum takeoff weight is 10,600kg.
The exhaust gases from the engines are filtered through an infrared suppression system for decreased sensory visibility. According to Airbus Helicopters, the NH90 possesses the lowest radar signature in its class, principally due to its diamond-shaped composite fuselage.
The NH90 features a range of customizable avionics systems, dependent on customer selection and purpose. A pilot and co-pilot can be accommodated in the cockpit. The full glass cockpit is equipped with an integrated avionic suite, advanced controls, a communication suite, and a navigation system. It is also equipped with multifunction displays.
Its fly-by-wire controls with four-axis automatic flight control system reduce crew workload. Other mission systems include helmet-mounted sight and display, forward-looking infrared system, weather radar, digital map generator, and an on-board monitoring and diagnostic system.
The NH90 can be equipped with various mission-specific systems, including modular armor plating around the cabin area for undertaking high-risk missions and an ice protection system for operations within cold climates. It can also make use of the In-Hover Flight Refuelling System as well as additional internal and external fuel tanks to conduct extended range missions.
Other equipment includes a wire strike protection system, rappelling system, hoist, cargo hook, search light and various seating options, including crashworthy foldable seats.
In the NATO frigate helicopter version, the NH90 can be configured with anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and sonobuoys. It can be equipped simultaneously with both an anti-ship missile and a torpedo.
The NH90’s NATO frigate helicopter version is a ship-based compact maritime helicopter, one of the primary maritime weapon systems for any surface fleet. Operating from shore or warships in all flyable conditions, the helicopter is tailored for full capability in both anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. Search and rescue operations can be performed in either of these configurations.
In the role of NATO frigate helicopter, NH90 has fulfilled missions along the East African Coast, in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, Mediterranean and northern waters. Its operational versatility and wide range of capabilities make it the most effective naval helicopter available today; it is a true force multiplier and an essential asset for any operation.
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