Photo courtesy of Leonardo
Nine VH-71s built for a U.S. presidential helicopter program canceled nearly a decade ago may get a second life if Canada elects to use them to expand its fleet of search-and-rescue CH-149 Cormorants.
Both the Cormorants and the Kestrels – the name the U.S. military placed on the VH-71s – are based on the EH101/AW101, the medium-lift helicopter now built by AgustaWestland successor Leonardo Helicopters. (EH Industries was set up in the 1980s by Agusta and Westland to develop the EH101, primarily to replace Sikorsky H-3 Sea Kings.)
The VH-71 was the product of a Lockheed Martin-AgustaWestland partnership to develop an replacement for the Sikorsky VH-3Ds flown by the U.S. Marine Corps’ Helicopter Squadron One, primarily for the presidential transport mission. After significant cost and schedule overruns led the U.S. Navy to cancel the VH-71 program in 2009, Canada bought the nine “increment one” Kestrels to provide spare parts for its 14 CH-149s. The Cormorant entered service with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2002.
Leonardo Helicopters last month said it had re-formed "Team Cormorant" with IMP Aerospace & Defence (and other Canadian companies) to pursue a contract to modernize of the CH-149s and expand that fleet by converting the VH-71s to the Cormorant configuration. IMP is the prime contractor for Cormorant in-service support. IMP has the Kestrels in storage in Halifax, Nova Scotia.