New Presidential Helicopter Expected to Begin Flight Testing This Summer
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy’s second attempt to produce a new presidential helicopter is “executing very well,” with the first two developmental aircraft expected to start flights tests this summer, just over three years from program start, the program officer said April 4.
The program is moving almost exactly on schedule and its cost is tightly limited by a “fixed-price incentive” contract that would force the contractor to absorb much of any cost overrun.
That is a major change from the earlier effort that was canceled in 2009 after the program cost had soared to $13 billion, more than twice the predicted price.
The new aircraft, which is called “Marine One” when the president is onboard, is designated the VH-92. It is a modified version of a commercially available aircraft produced by Sikorsky Helicopter, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary.
The key factor in the success of the VH-92 program is the decision to require an off-the-shelf, FAA-certified aircraft, said Marine Corps Col. Robert Pridgen, the Naval Air Systems Command program manager, told reporters at a 2017 Sea-Air Space Exposition briefing.
The Marine One model is based on the commercial S-92, 175 of which have flow a total of 1.7 million flight hours for offshore oil support, search and rescue and VIP transportation, Spencer Elani, Sikorski program manager. said.
Another key to keeping the program on time and within budget was a tightly disciplined control of the requirements, with Naval Air Systems Command, the White House Military Office and Sikorsky constantly involved.
Making any significant change in the specifications requires a serious justification, Pridgen said.
“We not only learned the lessons” from the failed program, “we applied the lessons,” he said.
The major changes to the commercial S-92 are the elaborate and sophisticated communications system that enable the president to stay in contact with national civilian and military leaders while airborne, plus structural strengthening and electronic defensive equipment to protect the president.
The communications system consists of government supplied, in-service radios, Pridgen said. But if new technology matures before the aircraft go into service, it could be added, he said.
The program will buy 21 VH-92s to replace the 11 VH-3s and eight VH-60 helicopters in Marine Experimental Helicopter Squadron One (VMX-1) at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Sikorsky pilots will begin the flight tests on the two developmental models this summer, and turn them over to Marine test pilots next year, Pridgen said. Initial operating capability, with four aircraft and the required Marine pilots, crew members and maintenance personnel is expected by 2020, he said.