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An NH90 of the German Army
Role Medium transport/utility helicopter
Manufacturer NHIndustries
First flight 18 December 1995
Introduction 2007[1]
Status In service
Primary users German Army
French Army
 Italian Army
Australian Defence Force
Finnish Army
Produced 1995-present
Number built 161 as of September 2013 out of 329 ordered[2]
Unit cost
€32.5 million[3] (~US$42m) (FY12) TTH
€35m[4] (~US$47m) (FY12) NFH support
€42m[4] (~US$56m) (FY12) NFH attack

The NHIndustries NH90 is a medium sized, twin-engine, multi-role military helicopter. It was developed and is manufactured by NHIndustries, which collaborates with and is owned by Eurocopter, Fokker and AgustaWestland. There are two main variants, the Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) for Army use and the naval NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH), but each have several sub-types with different weapons, sensors and cabins.

The NH90 was developed in response to NATO requirements for a battlefield helicopter that was also capable of being operated in the naval environment. The first prototype had its maiden flight in December 1995; the type began entering service in 2007. As of 2013, a total of thirteen nations have ordered the NH90 with deliveries starting in 2006.

Design and development

In 1985, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom teamed to develop a NATO battlefield transport and anti-ship/anti-submarine helicopter for the 1990s. The United Kingdom left the team in 1987.[5] On 1 September 1992, NH Industries signed an NH90 design-and-development contract with NAHEMA (NATO Helicopter Management Agency).[6] This agency represented the four participating nations: France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Portugal later joined the agency in June 2001. Design work on the helicopter started in 1993.[7] The first prototype, PT1, made the type's first flight on 18 December 1995.[5][7] The second prototype, PT2, first flew on 19 March 1997 and the third prototype, PT3, on 27 November 1998.[7]

NH90 cockpit

The NH90 has been developed in two main variants: the Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) and the NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH).[5] However, many of the customer countries have requested specific changes for their NH90s. The programme had some technical and funding problems in the 1990s.[8] Then the partner nations placed a large production order for 366 helicopters in June 2000.[5] This was soon followed by a series of orders from Europe, Asia, and Australia.

The NH90 was initially intended to be produced at three exporting assembly lines; Cascina Costa in Italy for AgustaWestland, Marignane in France and Donauwörth in Germany for Eurocopter. The Nordic and Australian contracts stipulated production locally (the Nordic ones at Patria in Finland and the Australian ones in Brisbane). Spain has a final assembly line at Albacete.[9][10]

The programme ran into a 2-year production delay, and the first NH90s were delivered by late 2006. The type certification for the Finnish helicopters was finally approved on 19 February 2008.[11]

First deliveries

The first NH90s were delivered by late 2006 to the German Army. These were followed by Italian and Finnish helicopters in 2007. Later during 2007, the Italian and French navies started to receive their NFH versions and the first Swedish NH90s were also delivered. On 18 December 2007 the first two MRH90 aircraft were delivered to the Australian Defence Force.[12] The Royal Netherlands Navy got its first NH90 NFH in April 2010.[13] Norway started to receive their NH90s in November 2011.[14] New Zealand received its first two NH90s in December 2011.[15] The French Army took delivery of its first NH90 TTH in December 2011.[16] On 21 December 2012, the Belgian armed forces received the first helicopter, from an order of 8. In the same ceremony the French Navy received their first NH90 NFH in final operating capability.[17]

Concerns over performance

Rear cargo ramp, German Army NH90

In 2010, German newspaper Bild reported that German Army experts had concerns that the helicopter was not yet ready for the transportation of combat troops. They stated that the troops seats were only rated for 110 kg (240 lb), which is not considered enough for a fully equipped modern soldier. Heavier infantry weapons could not be adequately secured during transport. The cabin floor was prone to damage, citing an anecdote of damage being caused by dirty combat boots. The helicopter could only land on firm ground, with obstacles not exceeding 16 cm (6.3 in). Troops carrying full equipment could not use the rear ramp due to limitations placed on it. Adding a door machine gun was not possible due to space taken by troop ingress and egress. There was no provision for fast roping or paratroop equipment.[18] In response, the German Defense Ministry proclaimed that this article referred to a prototype version, and not to the production model; the specifications for which were not even finalised at the time. The prototype evaluation and its results were described as a normal procedure in an ongoing design process.[19]

In November 2011, the MRH90 program was placed on the Australian Department of Defence's list of "Projects of Concern".[20] As of January 2014, it remains on the list with the 15 MRH90s that have been delivered, cleared only for testing and initial training. The most serious problem identified by a diagnostic review and also the cause of the mid-2010 groundings,[21] is compressor blade rubbing caused by the bending of a spool in the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engine due to uneven cooling after shutdown. Other problems identified include failure of transmission oil cooler fans, windscreen cracking, an inertial navigation system that takes too long to align, and the weakness of the cabin floor to withstand the impacts of soldiers’ boots - a problem also encountered by the German military.[22]

Operational history


Australian MRH90

In 2005, Australia ordered 12 aircraft to replace their aging fleet of Army UH-1 Iroquois helicopters. The number was revised in June 2006 when the Australian Defence Force announced plans to replace its UH-60 Black Hawk and Westland Sea King helicopters.[23] Australia ordered 34 additional NH90s, taking their total order to 46; four to be manufactured in Europe, and 42 to be manufactured locally at Australian Aerospace (a Eurocopter subsidiary) in Brisbane.[24] The Australian version is known as the MRH-90 Taipan, where 'MRH' stands for Multi Role Helicopter.[25][26][27] Six of the helicopters are operated by 808 Squadron of the Royal Australian Navy, which was reformed for the first time since its 1958 decommissioning in 2011, and recommissioned in 2013.[27][28] The other 40 are operated by the Australian Army. On 20 April 2010, an Australian Defence Force MRH90 suffered an engine failure near Adelaide. Only one engine was affected and the helicopter was landed safely at RAAF Base Edinburgh. The manufacturer has sent personnel to Australia to investigate the failure.[29] On 18 May the ADF announced that all of the Australian MRH90 fleet were grounded due to engine issues since the April incident.[30] The cause of the failure was determined as the compressor blade contacting the engine casing. New inspections were added to prevent the problem, and flights resumed in July 2010.[31]

In June 2011, the NFH variant lost to the Sikorsky MH-60R in competition to replace the Royal Australian Navy S-70B Sea Hawks.[32] By January 2013, a total of 46 had been ordered.[33]


In 2007 Belgium signed on for an order of 10 aircraft, 4 TTH, 4 NFH and an option for 2 TTH.[34] In September 2012 NHI performed the first flight of the Belgium’s Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) The aircraft is similar to the French NH90 “Caiman” version.[35] In January 2013, eight NH90s were on firm order.[33] On 1 August 2013, Belgium received its first NH90 NFH at Full Operational Capability (FOC). Training of Belgium Navy flight and maintenance crews will begin in September, with operations beginning in 2014.[36]


In October 2001 Finland signed a contract for 20 (TTH) NH90s for the Finnish Army. The aircraft are to replace their ageing fleet of Mi-8 helicopters.[37] NH Industries began deliveries to Finland in March 2008.[38]


The French government had initially ordered a total of 34 NH90 TTHs, for the ALAT and 27 NFH for the Navy.[39] Both versions will be named "Caïman" and final assembly will be carried out by Eurocopter.[33][40] The French Army intended to buy 68 NH90 but budget cuts in the April 2013 defence review could have meant the cancellation of contract CA16-2 for the second batch of 34.[41] Under a deal called the "Bonn rebate" France gets a 12% discount on its 68 Army helicopters; a November 2012 Senate report put the price of the French TTH at €28.6M per unit after discount.[41] This price was set on the assumption of total orders of 605 aircraft by 2020, but only 529 have been ordered as of April 2013.[41] Any cut in the French order would have seen a reallocation of workshare, with the French Navy NFH90s likely being assembled in Italy and maintenance of the French TTH going to Fokker.[41] On 29 May 2013, France officially ordered the second batch of 34 NH90 TTH helicopters. The contract is estimated to be worth just under €1 billion.[42]


A German Army NH90 flight demonstration

The German Army has bought the troop transport variant but has expressed concerns about its suitability. The German Navy was considering procuring 30 NFH for their new Maritime Helicopter in 2009.[43] By January 2013, the German Army had ordered 80 aircraft.[33] In March 2013, Germany reduced its fleet of 122 to 82 with 18 to be converted to the NFH maritime variant for the German Navy, which was to place an order for the helicopters.[44] On 23 June 2013, German Army NH90s were declared operationally capable of medical evacuation operations.[45]

On 26 June 2013, the German defense committee declared that the order for 202 NH90 and Tiger helicopters would be reduced to 157. The Bundesrechnungshof still questions the purchase.[46]


In August 2003, Greece ordered 20 NH90s with an option for 14 more.[47] By 2012, four aircraft had been delivered in an "initial operational capability configuration" with upgrades planned to the full capability.[48]


Italian Army NH90; note the Minigun door gun

In June 2000 Italy signed on for a batch of 60 TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) for the Army, 46 NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter) and 10 TTH for the Navy.[49] By January 2013, 59 had been ordered for the Army, and 56 ordered for the Navy.[33]


Dutch NFH

The Netherlands, is one of the original supporters of the programme, which has 20 units on order. 12 NFH for the Navy,[50] and 8 NFH for the Air Force[51] In 2009, concerns surfaced that design changes had made the helicopter too heavy to operate from Dutch frigates for which they were ordered. It is unclear what additional changes needed to be made to make them suitable for the Dutch primary role.[52] In 2010, the Royal Netherlands Navy became the first customer to receive the NFH variant,[53] and in 2013 they deployed the type onboard HNLMS De Ruyter (F804) to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden.[54] By January 2013, a total of 20 NH90s had been ordered.[33]

New Zealand

In July 2006, the New Zealand Government signed a contract to purchase 8 NH90s (plus 1 extra for spares) to replace their Air Force's fleet of UH-1 Iroquois. These eight aircraft[33] cost NZ$771 million (~€500M), of which "over a third" was for support,[55] implying each cost an average of €35M. The first two arrived in New Zealand in March 2012.[55]


In December 2011, the first Norwegian NH90 helicopter was delivered.[56] The following July an announcement by the Norwegian Deputy Defence Minister Roger Ingebrigtsen stated that "once our current Westland Lynx helicopters reach their end of life in 2014, we are going to have replacement helicopters on our naval vessels. If the NH90 hasn’t been delivered, we will purchase another helicopter." He also said that "considering that the aircraft were to be delivered by 2005, and that delivery is yet to start by 2012, our confidence in the producer isn't exactly on the rise"[57] On August 14, 2012 it was reported that the Royal Norwegian Air Force, would be recommending that the Department of Defence, contact Sikorsky, asking for an offer, in order to verify whether some of the versions of the H-60 Seahawk, specifically the MH-60R would be a viable alternative to the NH-90 in the Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) role. Further reports quoted Lieutenant Colonel Per Egil Lindqvist, acting leader of the Development Staff at the RNoAF "We are still hoping for the NH90, and we hope that NHIndustries realize the gravity of the situation." They went on to quote Defence Minister Espen Barth Eide, saying "We still believe the marine version of the NH90 to be the optimal platform, and we hope to purchase it, but there are limits to our patience."[58] By January 2013, Norway had ordered a total of 14 NH90s.[33]


Oman ordered 20 TTH in 2004, their first aircraft flew in 2007 entering operational service in 2009.[59] The aircraft have an enhanced power plant ordered for tactical transport operations and search and rescue operations. Ten were delivered by 2012.[60] As of January 2013, 19 had been ordered.[33]


On 20 May 2005 the Council of Ministers authorised the acquisition of 45 NH-90s, but the contract was not signed until December 2006. The original budget was for €1,260 million (€28M/aircraft); by 2010 this had grown to €2,463M (€54.7M/~US$70M per aircraft).[61] As of June 2012 Spain was negotiating to cut their purchase to 37 aircraft.[62] As of January 2013, 38 was on order.[33]


The first Swedish HKP14, a High Cabin Version (HCV) of the NH90

In 2001, Sweden signed a contract for 18 helicopters, made up of 13 TTT/SAR and 5 ASW variants to be operated by the Swedish Air Force.[63][64] The NH90 is known as the Helikopter 14 (HKP14) in Swedish service, with the NFH designated HKB14B.[65] By January 2013, Sweden had ordered 18 NH90s with six helicopters delivered.[33] Sweden did not expect their NH90s to be operational until 2020 and ordered 15 UH-60M Black Hawks in 2011,[66] Sweden deployed four of their new Black Hawk to Afghanistan in March 2013.[67]

Cancelled orders


Portugal was the fifth nation to join the programme with an order for ten transport NH90 in June 2001, to equip the Portuguese Army Light Aviation Unit. In 2012, the financial crisis led Portugal to cancel the order despite having already spent €87m on the project, in order to save another €420m in acquisition and running costs to 2020.[68]

Saudi Arabia

In July 2006, the Saudi Government agreed to purchase 64 NH90s.[69] Then in October 2007 the government changed its plans, and agreed to buy 150 Russian-made Mi-35 and Mi-17 helicopters instead.[70]


NFH: NATO Frigate Helicopter

The primary role of the NFH version is autonomous anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface unit warfare (ASuW), mainly from naval ships. These aircraft are equipped for day and night, adverse weather and severe ship motion operations. Additional roles include anti-air warfare support, vertical replenishment (VERTREP), search and rescue (SAR) and troop transport. France are splitting their purchase between the "NFH version combat" costing €42m in FY2012 and the "NFH version soutien" (support) at €35.3m in FY2012.[4]

TTH: Tactical Transport Helicopter

The primary role of the TTH version is the transport of 20 troops or more than 2,500 kg of cargo, heliborne operations and search & rescue. It can quickly be adapted to MEDEVAC/CASEVAC missions by fitting up to 12 stretchers or cargo delivery capability. Additional roles include medical evacuation (12 stretchers), special operations, electronic warfare, airborne command post, parachuting, VIP transport and flight training. Sweden has bought the High Cabin Version (HCV) of both the TTH and NFH, in which the cabin height is increased by 24 cm (9.4 in) to 1.82 m (6.0 ft).[71] The Swedish aircraft have a Tactical Mission System developed by SAAB[71] and are designated HKP14. Finnish and Swedish TTHs are called Tactical Troop Transports (TTT) in some contexts.


Finnish NH90

New Zealand NH90

NH90 performing an external lift of a German Army Wolf vehicle

  • Australian Army - 15 aircraft in inventory as of January 2013 out of a total order of 46 aircraft[33]
 New Zealand
  • Defence Force Helicopter Wing - 6 aircraft as of January 2013[33]

Notable accidents and incidents

On 1 June 2008, a NH90 tactical transport helicopter struck the water and sank into Lake Bracciano, northwest of Rome, Italy. The helicopter was diving after completing a Fieseler Maneuver at the Lake Bracciano Air Show. Aircraft Commander Captain Filippo Fornassi was killed and co-pilot Captain Fabio Manzella was injured in the accident.[73] The helicopter was a hull-loss.[74][75]


NH90 orthographical image.svg

Data from International Directory[76]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2 pilots (and possible sensor operator on NFH)
  • Capacity: 20 seated troops; or 12 medevac stretchers; or 2 NATO pallets; or 4,000 kg (8,818 lb) external slung load
  • Length: 16.13 m (52 ft 11 in)
  • Rotor diameter: 16.30 m (53 ft 6 in)
  • Height: 5.23 m (17 ft 2 in)
  • Empty weight: 6,400 kg (14,100 lb)
  • Useful load: 4,200 kg (9,260 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 10,600 kg (23,370 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322-01/9 turboshaft, 1,662 kW (2,230 shp) each, or:
  • Powerplant: 2 × General Electric T700-T6E turboshaft, 1,577 kW (2,115 shp) each


  • Maximum speed: 300 km/h (162 knots, 186 mph)
  • Range: 800 km, 497 mi (TTH); 1,000 km, 621 mi (NFH) ()
  • Service ceiling: 6,000 m (20,000 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 8 m/s (1,574 ft/m)


  • Missiles: anti-submarine and/or air to surface missiles (NFH version), 2x door gun
  • See also


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    3. Tran, Pierre (8 April 2013). "Eurocopter: Dropping NH90 Order Would Hurt France, Firm". Defense News.  The French Senate reported in November 2012 that the French Army would be paying €28.6m/unit after France's 12% Bonn rebate, implying a price of €32.5m which is consistent with prices quoted for eg the New Zealand order (see NZ section). Prices are under review given the current shortfall in orders compared to what was budgeted for.
    4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Projet de loi de finances pour 2013 : Défense : équipement des forces" (in French). Senate of France. 22 November 2012. Retrieved 2013-11-07. 
    5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Frawley, Gerald. "NHIndustries NH 90". The International Directory of Military Aircraft, 2002/2003. Aerospace Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-875671-55-2.
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    19. [2][dead link]
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    33. 33.00 33.01 33.02 33.03 33.04 33.05 33.06 33.07 33.08 33.09 33.10 33.11 33.12 33.13 33.14 33.15 33.16 33.17 33.18 33.19 33.20 33.21 33.22 33.23 33.24 "World Air Forces 2013". Flightglobal Insight. 2013.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "FI_WAF_2013" defined multiple times with different content
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