The AgustaWestland/Bell/Lockheed Martin VH-71 made its first flight July 3 in Yeovil, UK. The 40-minute flight reached speeds of 135 knots and was reportedly uneventful, but there are likely challenges ahead for the program. The U.S. Navy is developing the VH-71 as a replacement for the 30-year-old Sikorsky VH-3Ds and somewhat newer N-60 “Whitehawks” that transport the President and other high-ranking government officials.
Despite the Navy’s decision to scale back initial funding for the program, Lockheed Martin continues to ready a new facility opened last year in Owego, N.Y., that will integrate systems and outfit cabins on the VH-71, the much-anticipated replacement for the U.S. Presidential helicopter fleet. The popular name Kestrel has been suggested for the VH-71, but remains to be officially adopted by the Navy.
The long-anticipated decision as to which helicopter would next carry the U.S. President was always going to leave one contender reaping the spoils and the other licking its wounds. In the end, it came down to a decision to go with the Lockheed Martin US101, a helicopter largely of British and Italian design.
Major helicopter manufacturers here in Paris are eagerly awaiting the expected release next month of a U.S. Air Force request for proposal (RFP) for a combat search-and-rescue helicopter to replace some 100 aging Sikorsky HH-60Gs. The RFP is expected to request 141 personnel recovery vehicles (PRVs) at a value of about $10 billion, with initial entry into service in 2011.
The Republic of Korea agreed to buy three S-92s to fulfill its presidential mission. Sikorsky will deliver them in a VIP configuration beginning in 2007. The Korean Ministry of National Defense selected the helicopter over the AgustaWestland EH-101, which will carry the U.S. President.
The $25 million facility at Lockheed’s Owego plant will house administrative offices, laboratories and an aircraft integration hangar.
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