US Naval Air systems Command (NAVAIR), November 17, 2005 - Patuxent River, MD – The first VH-71 Presidential Helicopter test vehicle landed here Nov. 2 and immediately began undergoing familiarization training for pilots and maintainers.
“What we will be doing with the airplane is largely training. Getting Marines, Navy guys, contractors, pilots and maintainers a jump start in learning this thing,” said Doug Isleib, Presidential Helicopters program manager. “There was a lot of excitement last week as we got the aircraft in. It pretty much emptied out our whole building. The whole team has been working on it since well before source selection in January. To see it here at Pax was a great morale boost for us.”
The VH-71A will provide the office of the president a mobile command and control capability featuring seamless and secure informational connectivity essential in the post 9-11 security environment. Presidential helicopters provide helicopter transportation to the president and vice president of the United States, heads of state and other official parties.
As an integrated “system of systems,” the VH-71A will feature latest generation technology with open systems architecture to provide not just a transportation platform, but also a complete, compact and mobile command and control capability. The VH-71A will provide: increased performance; improved mission, communications and navigation systems; improved maintainability; and expanded potential for future growth.
The current helicopter fleet that support the presidential mission, VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters, includes 30-year old aircraft that were designed in the 1960s, fielded in the 1970s and, while still safe and reliable, no longer has the growth capability to incorporate the equipment necessary to provide suitable presidential support in the post 9-11 environment.
Technically, TV1 is a leased Italian Navy EH-101 helicopter.
Because of the challenging schedule the program is under, leadership decided to lease the initial test article to get a head start on flight and maintainer training, Isleib said. Also having the EH-101 here now will allow the program team to figure out where to place system antennae and other communication systems.
TV1 will act as sort of a practice test bed before the three actual test vehicles arrive in the spring of 2007. Flight-testing of the VH-71A began with engine integration testing on a contractor vehicle in December 2004. TV1 arrived at Owego June 10 and shortly after began more involved flight-testing.
The new hangar facility, to be completed sometime next fall, will house all the test and evaluation, program management and depot work on the VH-71 aircraft.
“There has been a lot of effort in getting everything we can in there,” Isleib said. “Both the tower and the hangar are ahead of schedule. When we’re done with it as a test facility, the hangar will turn into the depot facility for the president’s helicopters instead of sending them back to the original equipment manufacturer.”
Despite the morale boost for the team, the arrival of TV1 is just a small, preliminary step in the beginning phases of test and evaluation of the VH-71. But last week’s arrival represents the first tangible part of development flight test that the team has seen, Isleib said.
“They’ve been working for a couple of very hard years on putting this program together and getting out of the starting chocks,” Isleib said. “They went through a very aggressive, very high-profile and very rigorously executed selection process and now they’re seeing the first fruits of that. Now they have a no-kidding helicopter here and it’s just the first of many to come.”
A $1.7 billion, cost plus award fee contract awarded to Lockheed Martin Systems Integration of Owego, NY launched the VH-71A’s system development and demonstration phase Jan. 28.
Flight testing of the VH-71A began with engine integration testing on a contractor vehicle in December, 2004. Additional flight testing began June 10 at Owego using TV-1.
The program plans to procure 23 VH-71 operational aircraft and three test aircraft at an expected per unit cost of approximately $82 million per aircraft (initial increments) and approximately $110 million per aircraft in the final configuration.
As the prime contractor and systems integrator, Lockheed Martin is basing the VH-71A on its US101 helicopter. The US101 is an American-built variant of AgustaWestland’s successful EH101 multimission helicopter that currently serves with five allied armed forces and has logged more than 80,000 flight hours, including combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
The VH-71A features components provided by more than 200 suppliers in 41 states.
Lockheed Martin’s team includes AgustaWestland (aircraft design), Bell Helicopter (aircraft production) and General Electric (engines).