AgustaWestland has flown the first test aircraft built specifically for the Lockheed Martin VH-71 US presidential helicopter programme. The aircraft made a 40min flight on 3 July from the company's facility in Yeovil, UK.
Under Increment 1 of the programme, three additional test aircraft will fly by early 2008 and five pilot-production VH-71s will be delivered by October 2009 to meet the urgent requirement for a new presidential helicopter.
An improved version of the helicopter with increased performance will be developed for Increment 2. This will have uprated engines, a new transmission, longer rotor blades and extended tailboom to give the helicopter longer range and a command and control capability while in flight.
Orginal plans called for 18 new Increment 2 helicopters, plus upgrades to the Increment 1 machines, but because of the extensive changes the VH-71 team has recommended production of 23 new Increement 2 helicopters.
These will be assembled in the USA by Bell Helicopter, with missionisation by Lockheed Martin.
The first VH-71, designated Test Vehicle #2, will complete initial shake-down flying and begin avionics and systems testing in the UK before being delivered to the US Navy's test centre in Patuxent River, Maryland in the fourth quarter for structural testing.
VH-71 prime contractor Lockheed Martin is already using an EH101, designated TV-1, for initial testing in the USA, including landings on the White House lawn.