In September the UK defense ministry announced a contract to upgrade the Royal Air Force’s 46-strong Boeing Chinook support helicopter force. Known as Project Julius, and driven partly by the extraordinary demands of sustained operations in Afghanistan, the program consists of re-engining and a cockpit upgrade.
The future of the VH-71 presidential helicopter program neared the wire last month as Congress worked to pass a final 2010 defense appropriations bill that the President would sign before the start of the fiscal year on October 1. If the bill is not signed into law by then, Congress would need to pass a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the Department of Defense. As AIN went to press, the bill had not yet become law.
Selection of a preferred bidder could emerge before the end of this year in the UK’s search-and-rescue helicopter (SAR-H) procurement process, which aims to replace the country’s existing mix of military and contractor-operated helicopters with new machines operated by a single commercial consortium under a private finance initiative (PFI) contract.
Intense speculation surrounds the Obama Administration’s Fiscal Year 2010 U.S. defense budget submission, which is now being deliberated in secret within the Pentagon. According to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, difficult choices must be made. The spotlight has fallen on two aerospace programs: whether to buy any more F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, and whether to abandon the VH-71 Presidential helicopter program.
Malaysia announced it would buy 12 Eurocopter EC725 Cougar medium-lift helicopters, then changed its mind two weeks later. Opposition politicians demanded that the controversial deal be referred to the country’s anti-corruption agency. Although new helicopters are urgently needed to replace the country’s 40--year-old fleet of Sikorsky S-61 Nuris, the government said the purchase was abandoned because of the deteriorating economic situation.
Avionics Innovations (Booth No. 1648) will provide its DMP-100NVG command communication product to AgustaWestland for use in its AW101 and Super Lynx 300 helicopters in high-noise environments. The night-vision-compatible version of Avionics Innovations’ DMP-100 cabin briefing system plays back pre-recorded versions of all necessary pilot commands, solving the problem of flight-deck noise overpowering pilots’ microphones.
AgustaWestland (Booth No. 5408) is exhibiting an AW101 cabin mockup in an “ultra-luxury” version that the European company says is entirely befitting of the heaviest civil helicopter available in the Western world.
AgustaWestland last year invested 11 percent of its revenues in research and development. It is a co-leader (with Eurocopter) of the CleanSky Joint Technology Initiative, a major European research program, and is studying active blade control to reduce noise. Planned is ground testing of an active blade segment, then wind tunnel testing of a complete model and eventually flight-testing of such a new rotor.
AgustaWestland has announced that orders in the first half of this year have risen by 10 percent over the same period last year, to U1.62 billion ($2.5 billion). Meanwhile, the Anglo-Italian helicopter maker is creating a subsidiary company in Portugal, called AgustaWestland Portugal, to provide complete helicopter support services. Its first contract is to maintain the Portuguese Air Force’s 12 AW-101 transport helicopters.
The first production model of a new generation of Marine One U.S. Presidential helicopters made its initial flight earlier today at AgustaWestland’s plant in Yeovil, England. Designated by the U.S. Navy as VH-71, the helicopter is based on the three-engine AW101. The first block of five helicopters is scheduled to begin entering service next year. The Navy has been test flying four prototype block one aircraft over the past year.