The program to provide new VIP helicopters for the U.S. president has taken a step forward with first flight of an “operational pilot-production example” of the Lockheed Martin VH-71. The three-engine helicopter, which is based on the AgustaWestland AW101 (born as the European Helicopter Industries EH 101), had its maiden flight at the AgustaWestland factory in Yeovil, England, on September 23.
Dubbed PP-1, the helicopter was scheduled to be transported by the U.S. Air Force this month to U.S. Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, N.Y., is overall VH-71 prime contractor and systems
integrator, while principal subcontractor AgustaWestland is responsible for basic “air vehicle” design and support functions, as well as production manufacture.
PP-1 is the first of five pilot-production airframes that will complete the first phase (or Increment 1) of the program to replace Sikorsky VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters in the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) presidential fleet. The last of the five is expected to be delivered to Patuxent River by early next year and these VH-71s will be the first to enter USMC service, according to Lockheed Martin.
During the eight months to June this year, four test examples were delivered. The first two (dubbed TV-1 and TV-2) are for flight test and the other two (TV-3 and TV-4) for systems integration by Lockheed in Owego. TV-4 will be used to confirm in-flight performance of systems previously evaluated in laboratories. In addition to these four test aircraft, a fifth was built and retained by the manufacturer.
With PP-1 now having flown, U.S. Navy VH-71 program manager Capt. Donald Gaddis said, “We’re seeing real progress. [Now] we can build on [our] momentum as we deliver Increment 1 helicopters and move into Increment 2.”
“We’ve got systems integration laboratories ‘online,’ helicopters in flight test and more in production for final command-and-control systems integration,” said Lockheed Martin vice president and VH-71-program general manager Jeff Bantle.
“It’s crucial now to charge ahead to complete this phase and continue into the next.”
Increment 2 will provide 23 operational VH-71s with increased range and upgraded navigation and communications systems that meet White House requirements.
Some of the current presidential helicopters have been flying since the 1970s and are scheduled to be phased out (at three a year) starting in 2017. More than 200 suppliers in 41 U.S. states contribute to 65 percent of the VH-71 program.