Two HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopters are at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, in preparation for flight test. Photo courtesy of Sikorsky.
Sikorsky has fully assembled two HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopters (CRH) and is preparing them for maiden flights before mid-year at the company’s site in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The HH-60W will replace the U.S. Air Force’s aging HH-60G Pave Hawks currently performing the combat search-and-rescue mission.
Both of the recently-completed aircraft were transported late last year to West Palm Beach following final assembly at Sikorsky's facility in Stratford, Connecticut and a test readiness review in October.
The CRH HH-60W flight test team is currently preparing both aircraft for flight by conducting final installation of instrumentation and ground run testing. This marks formal entry into the flight test program that culminates in ready assets available (RAA), at which point the Air Force can declare initial operational capability (IOC) of the aircraft.
"Having these initial HH-60W helicopters in West Palm Beach for flight test is an exciting time for the Sikorsky team," said Greg Hames, Sikorsky’s director of the CRH program, in a prepared statement. "It is the first step toward a low rate initial production decision later this year, which will allow Sikorsky to provide a constant production flow of aircraft to the warfighter. This is the point in the program when Sikorsky begins providing new aircraft into the warfighters' hands, initiating transition to the vastly more capable and reliable HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter."
The first of the two HH-60W aircraft will enter flight test with a new tactical mission kit that integrates sensors, radar, and multiple defense systems to provide pilots with added intelligence and situational awareness. Sikorsky's HH-60W team completed the system configuration test readiness review for the mission kit last year.
The HH-60W hosts a new fuel system that nearly doubles the capacity of the internal tank on a UH-60M Black Hawk. Air Force CRH program requirements call for a more capable defensive system, vulnerability reduction, weapons, cyber-security, environmental, and net-centric improvements than the legacy HH-60G.
"Our team is working every day to build and deliver a superior quality helicopter to the U.S. Air Force for this critical mission," Hames said. "Both Sikorsky and the Air Force remain committed to achieving a low rate initial production decision this year and getting this much-needed aircraft to our air men and women out in the field."
A total of nine aircraft will be built in Connecticut during the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the program ― four EMD aircraft and five system demonstration test articles.
A total 112 HH-60Ws are to replace the aging fleet of HH-60G Pave Hawks, which have suffered attrition and combat losses. Pave Hawks play an important role in combat search and rescue and personnel recovery for all the military services.
The Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) in his most recent report recommended that the Air Force program office re-evaluate the HH-60W to determine whether it will be more survivable than the HH-60G Pave Hawk that CRH is to replace.
Design changes are underway for the HH-60W tactical mission kit, Link 16, digital radar warning receiver, rescue hoist, gun mount and systems, armor, aircrew seating, and fuel cells, which have "not met self-sealing performance versus some threats," DOT&E said in its FY 2018 annual report.