As the first NH90 was accepted by the German Army in early November,
the industrialization of hundreds of machines on order is already underway.
There is no need to mention again all the qualities
of the NH90: the twelve customer countries,
400 firm orders and an additional 100 on option
as of 31 October 2006 speak for themselves.
A helicopter doesn’t become the reference for
the 21st century in the multi-role, medium-weight
class without good reasons.
After a hard sales campaign, the challenge now
lies elsewhere: “We now must turn the commercial
success into an industrial one,” summed up Dr. Lutz
Bertling, President & CEO of Eurocopter.
Breaking Down Barriers
The first key to this success was the qualification of
the helicopter in its TGEA(1) variant, which was a prerequisite
for its delivery to the German Army. The
multinational aspects of the program (four industrial
partners in NHIndustries) could have turned the
process into a nightmare; Germany was responsible
for the qualification of the fuselage structure, France
for the fly-by-wire controls, Italy for the hydraulic
system and the Netherlands for the landing gear.
But after several months of work, the aircraft was
qualified on 31 March 2006.
“The work first began in 2005, when the same management
concepts to be formalized nine months later
in the VITAL program were first applied,” explained
Bertling. “One of the major requirements was to
create interdepartmental links between the different
actors in the program and to coordinate the involved
A “task force” dedicated to
the qualification work was created by breaking down
the walls – both figuratively and physically – separating
the operations of the different sectors.
brought together representatives from the program
directorate, production, configuration management,
engineering, customer support, technical publications,
and several others sectors - all at the same
physical platform,” said Bertling. “This team work
was a tremendous success and was a pilot project for
the concept of multi-skilled work units.” More than
200 people participated in the qualification process.
Although the initial qualification was for the German
variant, the work took place in Marignane since
the NAHEMA (the NATO agency representing the
program partner countries(2)) is located not far from
The subsequent qualification work on
the TTH will only concern the specific equipment
packages for each variant, as the already-qualified
standard vehicle is the same. The next aircraft on
schedule are for Greece.
One For All and All For One…
And further down the line, the aircraft production
teams also had a few challenges on their hands.
of the most difficult tasks was to oversee the production
of the first series aircraft, while at the same time
finalizing the industrial organization. The production
work is now underway for approximately two hundred
NH90s, and about twenty of the helicopters are
already on the flight line for the acceptance tests.
“Having so many different variants forced us to deal
with a high level of complexity,” admitted NH90 Program
Director Alain Rolland. “Even more so because
of the international work sharing and five different
assembly lines. Components are delivered back and
forth between the different industrial partners, which
means that we all must rely heavily on one another.
I would also like to point out that we started to
assemble aircraft on the line in Finland even before
the first NH90s were delivered. That was truly a
But Bertling is clearly confident: the already reached
progress in final assembly lines and flight test on several
helicopters will allow us to manage the ramp-up
of operations in 2007.
The industrial tool is now fully
operational and will be capable of boosting its production
significantly in the near future. An overriding
aspect of the program will always be the large
number of customers and different variants.
“Our major concern was to complete the aircraft
qualification and the accompanying documentation
within the lead times.”
Next important date to note: early 2008, when the
qualification work will finish on the NFH(3) version.