On May 17 Sikorsky flew its HH-60W combat rescue helicopter for the first time. During the initial flight from Lockheed Martin's West Palm Beach, Florida facility, the HH-60W’s hover control and low-speed characteristics were checked in a 1.2-hour sortie.
“This achievement is yet another vital step towards a low-rate initial production decision and getting this much-needed aircraft and its advanced capabilities to the warfighter," said Dana Fiatarone, vice president, Sikorsky Army & Air Force Systems. "We are very pleased with the results of today's flight and look forward to a productive and informative flight-test program."
The first flight keeps the HH-60W program on track, with a Milestone C decision planned for September, after which the program moves out of the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase and into production and delivery. A second HH-60W is due to fly in a matter of days, with two more scheduled to fly within weeks. The four EMD aircraft will conduct a test campaign to prove the aircraft is ready for low-rate initial production. Beyond the EMD machines, Sikorsky has also been contracted for five System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTAs).
The U.S. Air Force selected the HH-60W, based on the U.S. Army’s UH-60M, to replace its aging HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue fleet, with a stated requirement for 113 aircraft. Although it looks superficially the same as its predecessor, the HH-60W introduces numerous improvements in terms of performance, reliability, and capability. It has a new fuel system with a capacity roughly double that of the UH-60M to permit rescue missions over long ranges. New defensive systems make it more survivable and its systems feature cyber-resilience, while its communications reflect a move to netcentric operations.
On the same day Sikorsky also received a $1.13 billion contract from the U.S. Navy to build 12 CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters, part of a 200-aircraft program of record for the U.S. Marine Corps. The dozen machines for Lots 2 and 3 of the low-rate initial production batch are due for delivery from 2022.
Although the “King” has been flying since 2015, the program has exhibited “design deficiencies,” according to a Department of Defense report. The intended date for initial operating capability has been pushed back from December 2019 as the issues are worked through, and it is not expected that initial operational test and evaluation will begin until 2021, with deployment expected in 2023/2024.