Bell Textron has started manufacturing the UH-1Y Venom helicopters for the Czech Republic Air Force, the first international operator of the aircraft.

Subcontractor Crestview Aerospace has already completed production of the first of eight cabins at its facility in Florida, US.

Bell will undertake final assembly of the aircraft at its facility in Amarillo, Texas, US.

Crestview Aerospace Strategy and Business Development senior vice-president Paul Kohlmeier said: “Crestview Aerospace is honoured and grateful for the opportunity to team with Bell on the continued production of the UH-1Y cabin for the first international customer.

“Crestview continues to build in the same high quality and reliability into the international Venom helicopters that underpin the aircraft currently operated by the United States Marine Corps around the world.”

The helicopters are part of the US Department of Defense (DoD) contract awarded to Bell last year to deliver eight UH-1Y and four AH-1Z helicopters for the Czech Republic.

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In April 2018, Bell delivered the final UH-1Y for the US Marine Corps’ (USMC) programme of record.

Since then, the company has been producing the AH-1Z under the H-1 production contract that involves the supply of 349 H-1 aircraft. Of the total, 160 are UH-1Y and 189 are AH-1Z helicopters.

Bell noted that it expects USMC production for the AH-1Z to continue until early next year. It will also produce helicopters to fulfil orders from foreign military customers.

The UH-1Y Venom provides support to a range of missions, including utility, search and rescue, aerial reconnaissance, air-to-ground support, escort, as well as special operations.

The UH-1Y shares 85% commonality of parts and share the same engines, integrated mission system and other dynamic components with the AH-1Z.

Bell vice-president and H-1 programme director Mike Deslatte said: “Time, logistics, and man-hours are all strategic resources.

“Commonality helps ensure everything between the Viper and Venom, from manufacturing, maintenance, and upgrades, remains seamless while simultaneously providing lower program and lifecycle costs. It’s a real tactical advantage on multiple levels.”