NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—Naval Air Systems Command has a handshake deal in place to start production of the Sikorsky VH-92A, the next generation presidential helicopter, officials said on Monday.
NAVAIR has already taken possession of three VH-92A aircraft and the program is scheduled to have a milestone decision meeting at the end of the month with Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts.
Based on the feedback from test pilots, VH-92A production is expected to start soon after the milestone meeting, Marine Maj. Gen. Gregory L. Masiello, the program executive officer for Air anti-submarine warfare, assault and special mission programs (PEO (A)) said during a presentation at the Navy League’s 2019 Sea Air Space exposition.
“I believe that things went reasonably well,” Masiello said of the recent VH-92A testing. “The reason I say that is because I know where the aircraft took off from every day and I know where they landed every day, and it was where it was supposed to. The feedback was relatively positive.”
In one instance, a VH-92A flew into Washington D.C., swooping low over the National Mall on an otherwise quiet Saturday morning, and practicing landing on the White House lawn. That VH-92A was the first helicopter delivered to NAVAIR. The initial operational capability is expected to occur in late 2020, and the full production line is on track to complete in 2023.
Assuming the end of May meeting with Geurts is positive, Masiello said the plan is to award Sikorsky a production contract and executive options to build the VH-92 throughout the life of the program as needed, Masiello said.
As part of the Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program, Sikorsky was in 2014 awarded a $1.2 billion contract to build a fleet of six helicopters to start, but with options for the Navy to purchase up to 17 more helicopters.
This is the second attempt to replace the current decades-old VH-3Ds presidential helicopters currently in use. In 2005, Lockheed Martin’s proposed VH-71 helicopter beat the Sikorsky helicopter in the competition to build the Presidential helicopters. Years of delays and cost overruns caused the Pentagon to scrap the project in 2008 and start the process over with a new round of bidding, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
A decade later, Sikorsky won a new competition with its VH-92A design, a variant of the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter which is used by 11 other nations to transport their heads of state. Lockheed Martin purchased Sikorsky for $9 billion in 2015.