Pentagon moves on with non-Sikorsky presidential copter
By Howard French
Journal Inquirer

Published: Friday, October 10, 2008 10:08 PM EDT

As a sign that Sikorsky Aircraft’s historical grip on building the presidential helicopter is irrevocably broken, the Pentagon has awarded Lockheed Martin a $173 million contract addition for the “system development and demonstration” of its VH-71 presidential helicopter.

The development phase will include engineering, design, and integration of various communications, navigation, and mission systems required for the helicopter’s support mission, according to the latest contract listings on the Defense Department’s Web site.

Work will be done in Patuxent River, Md., Owego, N.Y., Rolling Meadows, Ill., Lynn, Mass., Clifton, N.J., Denton, Texas, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., as well as in the United Kingdom, Italy, according to the listing.

The work is expected to be completed in September 2011. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting base.

Sikorsky in January 2005 lost the bid to build the next-generation presidential helicopter to a team led by Maryland-based Lockheed and Britain’s AgustaWestland. The loss of the $1.6 billion contract came after Sikorsky had been the presidential helicopter supplier of choice for nearly 50 consecutive years.

The contract involves building 28 “Marine One” helicopters used by the White House.

Last January, Lockheed announced that the first two VH-71 helicopters built for the president had entered the flight test phase with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

They were the first of four test aircraft built for the initial phase of the VH-71 program known as “Increment One,” according to a Lockheed company statement.

Over the past 11 months, all of the aircraft were delivered to Patuxent River, including the initial fleet of five presidential helicopters, Lockheed officials said.

Sikorsky, a subsidiary of Hartford-based United Technologies Corp., has had much better luck overseas.

In 2007, Britain’s Buckingham Palace requested the presence of Sikorsky to carry on as part of the royal family’s transportation fleet.

The new helicopter will replace the existing Sikorsky S-76C helicopter that the royal family currently flies and Sikorsky was named preferred supplier for the replacement, which will be a new model S-76C helicopter, subject to contract and U.K. government approval, according to company officials.

The new helicopter will be used for the royal family’s “official engagements” when it enters service in August 2009, according to the contract announcement.

Sikorsky has been tapped for such VIP business from governments around the world, except in the U.S. Sikorsky has reported contracts for S-92 VIP aircraft for customers including Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.

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