Presidential Helicopter Maintains Momentum

 - February 21, 2020, 4:46 AM
The VH-92A retains the green/white scheme worn by HMX-1's current "Marine One" helicopters. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command’s PMA-274 program office has awarded a contract to Sikorsky Aircraft to procure six more VH-92A helicopters as part of the Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program. The type is replacing the VH-3Ds and VH-60Ns serving with Marine squadron HMX-1, based at MCAS Quantico, Virginia. The unit conducts presidential and associated transport duties, using the callsign “Marine One” when the President is aboard. The VH-92A can be transported to distant locations inside a C-17 airlifter.

Valued at $470,813,279, the firm-fixed-price modification to a previous contract not only covers the procurement of Lot II low-rate initial production helicopters, but also six cabin-modification kits and interim contractor support. Sikorsky builds the VH-92As at its Stratford, Connecticut, factory, and parent company Lockheed Martin installs the specialist interior and Mission Communications System (MCS) in Owego, New York.

Sikorsky initially built two Engineering Development Model (EDM) aircraft, the first of which flew on July 28, 2017. An operational assessment of the two EDMs conducted by the HMX-1 Operational Test Team resulted in Milestone C being declared on May 30, 2019, clearing the way for low-rate production. In September 2018, the team conducted 14 landings on the White House South Lawn, and also tested it at other key locations such as Joint Base Andrews and Camp David. A VH-92A was also loaded into a C-17 to verify its air transportability, while ground support equipment was fit-checked in C-130 and MV-22 transports.

Sikorsky then built four System Demonstration Test Article (SDTA) aircraft. Three of them, and the EDMs, have been handed over to the U.S. Navy for tests at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, with the fourth SDTA due to be delivered in May. The fleet has amassed over 1,000 hours of test flying, and the Navy is on track to conduct Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) later this year. In the meantime, the FAA-certified civilian S-92 fleet passed 1.5 million flight hours in 2019, with an average monthly safe flying rate of 14,400 hours.

The U.S. Marine Corps program of record covers the procurement of 23 VH-92As, of which 17 are to be mission aircraft. Of the remainder, four are earmarked for training and two for ongoing tests. An initial LRIP Lot I batch of six VH-92As was ordered in June 2019, on course for delivery in 2021. The latest Lot II LRIP batch is to be delivered in 2022, with the remaining five to be procured for 2022/23 delivery.