MESA, Ariz., March 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army has awarded a $186 million contract to MD Helicopters to build rotorcraft for training exercises in Afghanistan.
The initial deal calls for six MD 530F helicopters but the agreement could reach as many as 54 aircraft over a span of four years, the contract's duration. The Department of the Army said in a statement that the deal included provisions of all critical spare parts.
The deal was greeted with relief by the helicopter manufacturer, which has been struggling to make a comeback after nearly collapsing financially six years ago. It also is good news for Mesa, Ariz., MD Helicopters' headquarters, which is aggressively pursuing industrial recruitment and expansion.
As many as 54 aircraft are to be built at the company's Falcon Field Airport in Mesa over the contract's four-year duration.
A NATO-Afghanistan news release said advisers from the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand are training Afghan air force student pilots and non-commissioned officer trainees at Shindand, the air base where the helicopters will be deployed in Afghanistan.
"This is so huge for us, not just in terms of the dollar amount," said Lynn Tilton, MD's chief executive officer and chairwoman. "It's a vote of confidence from the government and the U.S. Army and I believe it's the first such contract since MD was owned by Boeing years ago."
The contracting officer, William Epps, wrote in the letter of award that the MD Helicopters' proposal was "determined to present the offer that represented the lowest price and technically acceptable proposal to the government and thus was selected for award."
Military experts say the MD530 is a perfect fit for the Afghan training mission. It is equipped with Rolls-Royce 250-C30 engine and longer main-rotor blades, affording the company's top high-altitude performer. Compared to earlier models, the 530F's tailboom is extended by 8 inches. The tail rotor blades, in addition, are longer, providing increased thrust and directional control at high altitudes.
Tilton said the contract would boost employment in Mesa but didn't elaborate.
"We will need to hire people," she said "But we need to be very intelligent about that coming off the industry's downturn."
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith hailed the news as a sign of possible additional employment gains for the area.
MD Helicopters is known for its extensive line of commercial helicopters. It manufacturers military aircraft and is in talks with Boeing on a project to joint develop a light reconnaissance helicopter for the global market.