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Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Modern Love Affair: Lynn Tilton and the U.S. Army

By Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor

Lynn Tilton speaking during her Heli-Expo 2012 press conference.

Lynn Tilton’s press conference at every Heli-Expo is always one keenly anticipated by the media, as Tilton herself freely admitted: “They come more to see what I am wearing than what I am saying.”

But MD Helicopters is now less in need of her flamboyance than at any time since Patriarch Partners (her investment company) took control in 2005. The clincher to this change has been that MD Helicopters has now tasted the so long-forbidden fruit of U.S. Army purchasing and the revenue it generates.

In March 2011, MD Helicopters won the contract to supply six MD530F helicopters through the Department of the Army to be used in Shindand, Afghanistan to train Afghan Air Force pilots. There are a further 54 options outstanding. The contract is categorized as Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft (NSRWA).

MD Helicopters showcased the AH-6i and the Little Bird as part of its Heli-Expo display. Photos by Andrew Parker
“That brought us together as a company,” said Tilton, adding that she has never been more proud of her employees’ reaction when given “the opportunity to perform.”

“We proved ourselves to be more than valid. We delivered six helicopters in six months to Afghanistan and we are now assisting in the training Afghanistan pilots... We took a group of people [MD employees] and pushed them hard so that they could taste success.”

This resulted in 2011 being a year of “stability and finding our balance to move forward,” something she has demonstrably longed for during the hard times of working to return the ‘lame duck’ company back to respectability and credibility. For the Army to partner with her again, after the dark days early on of bad feelings when they selected Bell’s ARH-70A Arapaho (later canceled) armed reconnaissance helicopter instead of her Little Birds, represents a great achievement. It is not something that would have happened even two years ago. In fact, this one event was “the highlight of her year.” Tilton can also see further military riches on the horizon as Boeing pushes the AH-6i into the world market as a mini-Apache “with attitude.” There is a first order of 24 aircraft with more to follow. She’s had setbacks too. When the helicopter EMS contract for the Saudi Red Crescent and its potential to rapidly widen into a Gulf Cooperation Council project fell through, she personally lost millions of dollars over the deal.

“Next year we will be talking about our new aircraft,” she concluded. “I am excited about the future—more excited today than I have felt in a long time.” She is still backing America and the rise of China and its strategic inroads into American business and way of life fires the “just bubbling below the surface” patriotism that she is (in)famous for. Perhaps an example of this new confidence is the fact that she was talking about a NOTAR roadshow to educate “the masses” about the benefits that technology brings over the standard tail rotor.

“We need to start marketing that with great force,” she said. If Tilton has moved to addressing such issues, the days of merely fighting for survival look to be in the rear-view mirror.

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