First Test Flight with the T129 Phase II Prototype

Tarih: Issue 96 - December 2019

The first flight test of the T129B Mk-I Tactical Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopter Phase-II version equipped with additional Electronic Warfare Self Protection and communication systems was successfully performed at Turkish Aerospace facilities on November 13, 2019. 

President of Defense Industries Prof. İsmail DEMİR announced the news from his social media account on the same day. DEMİR said, "The Phase-II version of the ATAK equipped with Laser Warning Receiver and other electronic warfare systems completed its first flight successfully. We aim to deliver ATAK Phase-II helicopters with additional domestic equipment, after the mid-2020 after detailed tests."

Under the ATAK Project carried out by the Presidency of Defense Industries, a total of 50 T129B Mk-I Tactical Reconnaissance and Attack Helicopters will be delivered to the Turkish Land Forces Command in two different configurations, Phase-I (29 units) and Phase-II (21 units). The first helicopter in the T129B Phase-I configuration was delivered on November 18, 2015, and the 29th helicopter was delivered in October 2018. In fact, it was planned to switch to the Phase-II configuration starting from the 30th (actually the 39th T129 helicopter including the 9 T129A EDHs previously delivered) T129B helicopter in 2018; however, this plan could not be achieved because of various reasons at that time and the 21 T129Bs planned for Phase-II were produced and delivered in Phase-I configuration. 

Therefore, after the detailed tests and approval for serial production/assembly, Phase-II configuration is expected to be applied retrospectively to the 21 T129B Mk-I Phase-II helicopters that have been produced and delivered so far.

The main difference between Phase-I and Phase-II helicopters is related to the Electronic Warfare (EW) systems. In addition to the current Phase-I configuration, Phase-II helicopters include 9681 V/UHF (Very High/Ultra High Frequency) Radio and EW systems such as RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) with a digital receiver, capable of detecting the signals of radars operating in C-J bands using Pulsed and Continuous Wave (CW) and their combinations, I-J Band RFJ (Radio Frequency Jammer) which incorporates various advanced technologies such as Active Electronic Scanning Antenna (AESA), Solid State Power Amplifier and Digital RF Memory (DRFM), and LWR (Laser Warning Receiver). We can say that we are in an excellent position for the T129B Mk-I Phase-I helicopters in terms of weapon systems, which is essentially the most critical element of an attack helicopter. In Phase II, it is planned to reach the best stage in terms of self-protection systems and communication systems. In this context, test activities related to the integration of 39 new equipment to Phase-II configuration are continuing. During the 2019 budget negotiations that were held in November last year, President of Defense Industries Prof. İsmail DEMİR announced that the local contribution rate of the T129B Mk-I helicopter was 58%. This ratio will be further increased with the previously mentioned 39 new equipment to be integrated into the helicopters under the Phase-II program.

The first flight test was performed with the T129B prototype with tail number P8, which we have not seen before. We believe that P8 will enter the Turkish Land Forces service next year under the T129B Phase-II program. Under the ATAK Project, in addition to the first helicopter (which is out of service, crashed in Italy in March 2010) with tail number P1, prototype helicopters with tail numbers P2, P3, P4 (the first helicopter delivered under EDH contract), P5 (the first helicopter delivered under  the T129B ATAK Program), P6 (initially, it was manufactured as the 4th prototype [P4] of the ATAK Project, then was re-designated as P6 to meet the tight delivery schedule of the T129A Early Delivery Helicopter [EDH] Project, which was signed between the SSB and the Main Contractor Turkish Aerospace on November 8, 2010), and P7 (an extra helicopter produced in place of the P1 helicopter, which crashed in Italy in March 2010. Currently used by AgustaWestland (AW is now Leonardo) as a test helicopter) were manufactured to be used in tests carried out at Turkish Aerospace and AW facilities.

The P8 helicopter is equipped with a black pod under its right-wing, which I believe that carries test and measurement equipment. On the right and left sides of the helicopter nose, there are two RWR High-Band Antenna Units just below the ASELFLIR-300T Electro-Optic System. Also, on both sides of the newly installed rectangular box behind the 20mm M197 Gatling cannon, there are flat antennas that that I initially supposed were connected to the RF Jammer but later on learned from Aselsan that they are not part of Aselsan HEHSIS EW Self Protection System. According to Aselsan they are under Turkish Aerospace responsibility. Additionally, RWR High-Band Antenna Unit, LWR, MWS-TU, RF Jammer Transmitter Unit, MWS-TU, and LWR antennas are located respectively on both modified wingtips of the helicopter. Furthermore, unlike Phase-I configuration, the main landing gear is reinforced at the connection points to compensate for the increased take-off weight, and new RWR Low-Band Antenna Units (three black antennas) are installed under the fuselage.

Between January 1, 2018, and January 31, 2018, Turkish Aerospace delivered 15 T129B helicopters in total, 11 of which were for the Land Forces Command and 4 for the Gendarmerie General Command. As of the end of 2018, Turkish Aerospace delivered a total of 42 T129 helicopters under the ATAK Project. 9 T129A EDH and 29 T129B helicopters were delivered to the Turkish Land Forces Command, and 4 T129B helicopters were delivered to the Gendarmerie General Command under a contract signed with the Ministry of Interior. 

Of the 6,500 components on the T129 ATAK Helicopter, 6,300 are domestic production, and the E-mission software of the helicopter consists of 3 million lines of code. Under the ATAK Program, a total of 91 T129 helicopters, 32 of which are optional, will be delivered to the Turkish Land Forces Command and a total of 27 T129 helicopters, 3 of which are optional, will be delivered to the Ministry of Interior (for Gendarmerie and Police Aviation). Therefore, as of December 4, 2019, a total of 54 helicopters were delivered, including 48 (9 T129A EDH + 39 T129B) for the Turkish Land Forces Command and 6 (18 T129B orders in total) for the Gendarmerie General Command under the ATAK Program, in which 118 T129A/B Mk-I Helicopters were expected to be produced in total. President & CEO of Turkish Aerospace, Temel KOTİL, made a statement on his social media account on 4 December for the delivery of the 54th T129 ATAK Helicopter and shared that the 54th helicopter is also the 12th T129B delivered by Turkish Aerospace in 2019.