New Presidential Helicopter Given VH-71A Designation

By John Milliman, USMC Helicopter Program Public Affairs

NAVAIR Patuxent River, MD – Marking a major step in the aggressive transition from concept to fielded capability, the next generation presidential helicopter shed its generic “VXX” placeholder and received its mission design series designator of “VH-71A” July 7.

A popular name for the VH-71A is still under consideration.

Assignment of MDS designators and popular names is done by the deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force (Plans and Policies), the agency responsible for assigning designators for military aerospace vehicles.

The VH-71A will provide the office of the president a mobile command and control capability featuring seamless and secure informational connectivity essential in the post 9-11 security environment.

Presidential helicopters provide helicopter transportation of the president and vice president of the United States, heads of state and other official parties.

As an integrated “system of systems,” the VH-71A will feature latest generation technology in an open systems architecture to provide not just a transportation platform, but a complete, compact and mobile command and control capability. The VH-71A will provide: increased performance; improved mission, communications and navigation systems; improved maintainability; and expanded potential for future growth.

The mixed fleet of VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters that currently supports the presidential mission includes 30-year old aircraft that were designed in the 1960’s, fielded in the 1970’s and, while still safe and reliable, no longer has the growth capability to incorporate the equipment necessary to provide suitable presidential support in the post 9-11 environment.

“Under this replacement program, with its technology and performance improvements, a single platform will provide better savings in total ownership costs, engineering, maintenance and logistical support over the lifetime of the program,” said John Young, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. “The president needs a more survivable helicopter while the nation engages in the Global War on Terrorism, and we are committed to providing it as soon as possible.”

Originally, the program proposed an initial operating capability in 2013 but was accelerated in 2003 to a currently planned IOC in fiscal year 2009.

A $1.7 billion, cost plus award fee contract awarded to Lockheed Martin Systems Integration of Owego, NY launched the VH-71A’s system development and demonstration phase Jan. 28.

Flight testing of the VH-71A began with engine integration testing on a contractor vehicle in December, 2004. Additional flight testing will begin shortly at Owego using Test Vehicle One, which arrived there June 10. Flight testing will transition here in 2006.

The program plans to procure 23 VH-71 operational aircraft and three test aircraft at an expected per unit cost of approximately $82 million per aircraft (initial increments) and approximately $110 million per aircraft in the final configuration.

As the prime contractor and systems integrator, Lockheed Martin is basing the VH-71A on its US101 helicopter. The US101 is an American-built variant of AgustaWestland’s successful EH101 multimission helicopter that currently serves with five allied armed forces and has logged more than 65,000 flight hours. The VH-71A features components provided by more than 200 suppliers in 41 states.

Lockheed Martin’s team includes AgustaWestland (aircraft design), Bell Helicopter (aircraft production) and General Electric (engines).

Photo: FUTURE MARINE ONE – The Lockheed Martin US101 was selected Jan. 28 as the next Presidential Helicopter as part of a $6 billion program to create a rotary-winged “Oval Office in the sky.” The VH-71A will replace the 30-year-old VH-3Ds and 16-year-old VH-60Ns that currently serve as the presidential helicopter fleet. The first test aircraft should arrive here in 2007. Image courtesy of LMSI.

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