1979 – HH-65 Aircraft Program Office Established
During 1977 an acquisition program was launched to provide the Coast Guard with a new Short-Range-Recovery (SRR) helicopter by early 1980. A Request for Technical Proposals (RFTP) was issued in September of 1977 with a Coast Guard decision on the new machine planned for August of 1978. Helicopter manufacturers who responded to the request were Textron Bell Helicopter with a utility version of its Model 222, Sikorsky Aircraft with a version of its S-76 Spirit, and Aerospatiale with a modified version of its AS 365.
The Bell 230 was relatively small and had old technology; Sikorsky proposed a different avionics package than what the Coast Guard wanted and would not modify their proposal. The 366G (SA-365) was 75% composite, including rotor head, blades and fuselage, with a much higher speed than both competitors. The Coast Guard version of the SA 365 was designed to be equipped with Lycoming engines which claimed marvelous capabilities. The Aerospatiale proposal was accepted.
The Coast Guard contract specifications reflected a very ambitious schedule. The helicopter was to be FAA-certified under Part 27. The airframe, a derivative of the basic Sud Aviation SA 365A, was considered a new airframe and thus required a Type Certificate (TC). The Lycoming LTS-101 engine, replacing the AS365 Turbomeca Arriel engine, was also new and thus needed its own TC. The Aerospatiale aircraft, now designated AS366G, was considerably smaller than the HH-52 it was to replace and space for all equipment was at a premium. The Coast Guard provided an Avionics Specification detailing the capabilities and in many cases the exact equipment to be used. The helicopter was to be certified for single-pilot IFR flight and be the first helicopter so certified with a four-axis autopilot.
The Coast Guard Aircraft Program Office (APO) for the SRR contract was established soon after the contract was awarded in 1979. CDR Dave Young was the original Commanding Officer. Aerospatiale’s original facilities were located at the Vought Helicopter Corporation which operated for a short period as a licensee of Aerospatiale. In late 1980 Aerospatiale built its own plant facilities at Grand Prairie, Texas. The Coast Guard APO was provided dedicated space. The assigned personnel were involved from the beginning, attending not only the formal program reviews but visiting Aerospatiale Helicopter Division in France, Lycoming, Rockwell Collins, and the FAA lead regions for helicopter and engine certifications. The formal reviews consisted of a post award meeting, a Preliminary Design Review, Critical Design Review and monthly program/progress reviews. The APO remained in place until after the acceptance of the last aircraft in 1989.
In an effort to gain early Coast Guard approval of the proposed configuration, Aerospatiale fabricated a full-sized mockup for use at the Critical Design Review. The cockpit was fairly well
designed and was modified by inputs received during reviews at Rockwell Collins and the Preliminary Design Review. In addition, various equipment such as a litter, rescue basket, trail line, float lights, and pumps were utilized to allow crew members to work through the necessary cabin operation scenarios. The interface between the hoist operator and his various controls received considerable input that was incorporated into the final configuration. The use of the mockup enabled the contractor and major vendors to rapidly move out with prototype builds. Three helicopters were used in flight tests. Two were flown to obtain certification in France and then through reciprocity the FAA certification. The third was used in the United States to prove the avionics installation. Eventually all three were flown out of Grand Prairie.
As the program progressed APO personnel became involved in component development, testing, and conformity to specification as the aircraft went down the production line. APO aviators conducted the acceptance flights. The APO was responsible for developing maintenance procedures and took the lead in managing the minimum stocking list for the initial spares for each Air Station
During the test and acceptance phase the relationship between Aerospatiale and the Coast Guard became a contentious one. Correction of major as well as minor problems was accomplished but not without contractual dispute which resulted in claims and counterclaims. Benefits of an open and contributive exchange between the parties while negotiating for a better product were not recognized. Aerospatiale became intransigent and filed a claim against the Coast Guard. During production and acceptance, the APO remained on site, and a separate office known as the Special Projects Office, consisting of government attorneys, and selected technical staff were located nearby. This was done in order to litigate without interfering with day to day APO and AHC operations.
The major fault following the aircraft into operation was the engine. Although the prototype LTS-101 750 A1 engines performed flawlessly during all FAA certification tests, as witnessed by USCG, FAA and Lycoming representatives, the production version of the engine had performance problems due to metallurgical problems with internal engine component materials compounded by an inability to maintain very tight manufacturing tolerances during mass production. As a result, the delivered engines had minimal performance margins, which were depleted in a matter of tens of hours rather than hundreds or thousands of hours.
Separate from other contract issues, the Coast Guard began investigating engine performance deficiencies and had contemplated a contract claim against AHC as prime contractor. However, a AHC employee filed a “whistle blower “suit prior to the completion of the Coast Guard claim. As a result of this action, the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) assumed the lead for all engine related problems, with the Coast Guard providing the technical expertise at negotiations.
The first three of ninety-six HH-65s became operational at Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans in November of 1985.
The LTS 101-750 engine was replaced by the more powerful Turbomeca Arriel 2C2-CG which greatly improved the performance of the HH-65. The helicopter has undergone upgrades and service life extensions and performs well as the Multi-Mission Cutter Helicopter.