Sikorsky has demonstrated that its VH-92A meets U.S. Marine Corps requirements for transporting the U.S. president and provides exceptional, affordable and supportable mission performance by completing a critical design review earlier this month, company and military officials said.
The review clears the Lockheed Martin unit to begin assembly, test and evaluation of the VH-92A under a $1.24 billion fixed-price incentive engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract the Navy awarded Sikorsky in May 2014. The contract includes production options; the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) plans to acquire two test aircraft and 21 operational ones based on the S-92.
The two EDM aircraft are undergoing modifications at Sikorsky’s Stratford, Connecticut, facility, according to Lockheed Martin, adding the first flight of a VH-92A-configured aircraft is planned for 2017.
“This is an important step forward in the replacement of our presidential fleet of helicopters,” said Marine Col. Robert Pridgen, program manager for the Naval Air System Command’s Presidential Helicopter’s Program Office. The successful review “demonstrates this helicopter system meets the requirements of the USMC and gives them exceptional mission performance from a platform that is affordable and supportable for this important mission.”
The main presidential transport today is the Sikorsky VH-3Ds flown by Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1), which also operates Sikorsky VH-60Ns and Bell Boeing V-22s. Pridgen has said some of HMX-1’s 11 VH-3Ds have been flying since 1974 and some of its eight VH-60Ns date to the 1980s.
A previous effort to procure a new presidential transport was killed in 2009 by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates after it fell under heavy criticism for anticipated cost overruns and delays. That ended a process that had begun six years earlier.
After the EMD VH-92A’s first flight, Pridgen said, the government is to take delivery of it for government testing one year later in 2018. Initial fielding of the VH-92As is slated for 2020 with production running through 2023, according to the Navy.
Pridgen said the Marines are using a two-pronged approach to help contain requirements creep and hold the VH-92A program under budget: keeping the aircraft in compliance with the S-92’s type certificate and running a requirements chain-of-command instituted by Pentagon acquisition czar Frank Kendall. Pridgen said if there was a requirements change is proposed that would affect cost, schedule or performance, it must clear layers of bureaucracy and must be able to fit within the “box” of FAA certification.
The critical design review “demonstrates Sikorsky and NAVAIR are well aligned,” said Spencer Elani, Sikorsky’s director of the VH-92A. “We got here by completing several milestones on or ahead of schedule. We are committed to staying on that track as we head into the building phase of the program.”
Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin
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