By Woodrow Bellamy III | April 10, 2018
Sikorsky is now four years into its $1.2 billion engineering and manufacturing development contract to replace the in-service U.S. presidential helicopter fleet with its VH-92A. Col. Eric Ropella, the U.S. Marine Corps VH-92A program manager, in a briefing at Navy League's Sea-Air-Space exposition Tuesday said negotiations are ongoing to acquire 21 total helicopters, contingent on VH-92A achieving milestone C status.
The presidential helicopter replacement program was awarded to Sikorsky in May 2014, to replace the Marine Helicopter Squadron One’s current in-service fleet of VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters. Sikorsky is using a variant of its S-92A, modified with government defined mission systems and executive interior for the VH-92A, which completed its first flight in July 2017.
Currently, Sikorsky is wrapping up the build process for the first two test aircraft that completed the first two flights last year. Toward the end of 2018, the VH-92 operational test team will complete an operations assessment of the aircraft. Data collected from the operations test will be used by Ropella’s team for the achievement of milestone C, which is planned to occur mid-2019. The U.S. military’s milestone decision authority uses milestone C for the purpose of completing the development phase of a newly acquired aircraft to provide approval to the manufacturer to enter the production and deployment phase.
“We have a proposal right now from Sikorsky for the remaining aircraft; we’re in the early phases of evaluating that proposal," said Ropella. "Our goal is to work through the negotiations, terms and conditions of that. Hopefully we’ll have that done before [December]."
There will be a total of 23 aircraft purchased for the presidential helicopter replacement program — including 17 production helicopters, four for training and the remaining two for testing. The Marine Corps is to purchase the 17 production aircraft over the course of three years, between fiscal years 2019 and 2021.
According to Ropella, operational testing for the VH-92As will be completed at the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) facility in Patuxent River, Maryland.
When asked whether noise impact on surrounding communities would be a concern during the testing phase, both Ropella and Spencer Elani, Sikorsky’s VH-92A program manager, dismissed the issue. Testing of the F-35 has already been conducted at Patuxent River, which is significantly louder than the S-92, according to Ropella.
“S-92 base program is always improving the aircraft, there are some automated approaches that potentially could help that. It’s not any louder than an H-3 is today,” said Elani.
The VH-92A fleet that is scheduled to enter service in 2020 does not currently have any planned major technological upgrades. VH-92As will, however, take advantage of an extra multi-functional display (MFD) in the cockpit, an upgrade option that Sikorsky offers on the commercial variant of the S-92A.
“We’re not going to make any changes while in development. But with all aircraft, changes need to be made for obsolescence or new capability," said Ropella. "One example I’ll give is the safety/situational awareness upgrade to add another MFD to the cockpit. Right now the baseline S-92 comes with four … there’s two on the pilot and co-pilot sides, this one would be in the center."
Production for the VH-92A is scheduled to continue through 2023, according to the Navy.