Bahrain Airshow: Turkey's TAI T-129 ATAK attack helicopter makes debut
Turkey's TAI T-129 ATAK attack helicopter is making its international debut at the Bahrain International Airshow.
This is far from being a coincidence, as the machine is being heavily promoted as a potential replacement for the Royal Bahrain Air Force’s (RBAF) ageing Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters.
Major Rakan Ateytalla, an instructor pilot on the RBAF Cobra, was clearly taken by the T-129, and compared it favourably with the USMC Bell AH-1Z Super Cobra that he had also been shown over before the show.
Major Ateytalla praised the T-129’s speed and agility and also highlighted its ability to be started and scrambled very quickly – “in three minutes and with three buttons”.
He said: “A rapid response capability like that would be particularly useful in a Bahraini context, but it is invaluable whenever troops on the ground need close air support ‘right now’!”
The T-129 is an extensively modernised and upgraded derivative of the AgustaWestland A129 Mangusta, with more powerful LHTEC CTS800-4N engines (from the ill-fated RAH-66 Comanche programme) built under licence by Tussah Engine Industries (TEI) and with indigenous avionics, weapons systems, and self-protection suites.
Even the helmet-mounted sighting system, based on the Thales Top Owl system, incorporates a locally developed optical head-tracking system and LCD displays instead of CRTs.
Under the terms of its agreement with AgustaWestland, Turkey has full intellectual property and marketing rights for the T-129 platform, except to Italy and the United Kingdom.
The Turkish Land Forces have ordered 59 T-129s in total, comprising nine T-129As (lacking the planned advanced anti-tank missiles and ordered under a 2010 urgent operational requirement) and 50 T-129Bs, including three TAI-built prototypes, but excluding the three prototype aircraft built at AgustaWestland’s facilities in Vergiate, Italy. The Turkish Land Forces also have an option on 32 further aircraft.
The first series production T-129s are now flying and an initial cadre of 14 pilots, three instructor pilots, and 45 technicians, have been trained on the new helicopter. First deliveries to the Turkish Land Forces are expected later this year.
RBAF Major Rakan Ateytalla, flanked by TAI test pilots Gökhan Korkmaztürk (left) and Arif Ates.