July 9, 2007 The new American presidential helicopter will be the most technologically advanced in the world, offering the most powerful leader on the planet a virtual "oval office in the sky." With ground-breaking safety, efficiency, defense and communications features built in, the Lockheed-Martin VH-71 fleet will have nearly double the cabin space of the current Sikorsky VH-3 Sea Kings that are reaching the end of their service life. The US$6.1 billion project recently completed an impressive maiden flight, up to a ground speed of around 155mph, and "Marine One" is expected to go into an Initial Operational Capacity by late 2009... a few months too late for George Bush to get a ride.
The VH-71 helicopter made its maiden flight at AgustaWestland's facility in Yeovil, UK, on July 3, marking a significant milestone in the development of the United States' Presidential aircraft.
The new "Marine One" will be the world's most technologically advanced helicopter that will safely and reliably transport the president and vice president of the United States, heads of state and other official parties both at home and abroad with mobile "Oval Office in the sky" capabilities. The designated Test Vehicle #2 (TV-2), built under contract to the U.S. Navy, was assembled and prepared at an AgustaWestland facility. It is the first test aircraft built specifically for the VH-71 Presidential Helicopters Program.
The souped-up presidential chopper will feature a fuselage capable of withstanding 15G crash impacts, and will be able to run even if one of its three 3,000 horsepower engines fails. Advanced rotor designs will give it up to 30% efficiency boosts from previous models. It will naturally feature class-leading defenses against anti-aircraft weapons, including laser and radar targeting systems. Secure, high-speed communications systems will give the President complete access to all White House and Pentagon computer systems and data streams, and a crucial fold-down staircase means he or she will never have to stoop and ruin a photo opportunity while exiting the vehicle.
During the 40-minute test flight, AgustaWestland Chief Test Pilot Don Maclaine and Senior Test Pilot Dick Trueman performed general aircraft handling checks, tested flight characteristics at varying speeds up to 135 knots (155mph in ground speed terms), and evaluated the on-board avionics systems. Initial Operational Capability of the Presidential helicopter is scheduled for October 2009.
"Seeing our first VH-71 test vehicle flying is an important stepping stone and an exciting event for the entire program, the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by the Government and Industry team," said Doug Isleib, U.S. Navy program manager, Presidential Helicopters Program. "We all should be proud of this accomplishment as we look forward to the day when these helicopters are landing on the South Lawn of the White House."
The VH-71 industry team will build a fleet of "Marine One" helicopters in two increments. Four test aircraft and five pilot production VH-71 aircraft comprising the Increment 1 phase are to be delivered through 2009. Increment 1 will answer the urgent need for an air system with enhanced performance. Increment 2 will see a significant increase in aircraft performance, and will feature technical enhancements designed to give "mobile oval office" style command and control capability while in flight.