Boeing has proposed offering a US-built version of the AgustaWestland AW101 for the VXX presidential helicopter contract, despite a long-standing policy of opposing aircraft that have benefited from European launch aid subsidies.

Phil Dunford, vice-president and general manager of Boeing rotorcraft, says he is unaware of any grants and loans for the Italian-British helicopter design that have not already been paid back.

A 1992 transcript of a debate in the UK House of Commons quotes Lord David Sainsbury of the Board of Trade as saying: "My department has provided £60 million [$87 million] of launch aid for the civil version of the EH101."

 © AgustaWestland

Boeing's decision to consider a foreign aircraft design for the VXX contracts comes as the company's top executives criticise EADS North America for offering a tanker that benefited from European government subsidies on the civil market. The EADS KC-45 tanker is a military tanker version of the Airbus A330-200, which also received subsidised loans.

Shortly after the VXX announcement, EADS called on Boeing to "cease its shrill rhetoric and finally allow the KC-X competition to focus on the merits of the tanker offerings".

Dunford says the renamed Boeing 101 helicopter is among three rotorcraft the company could offer to the US Navy. The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey and the Boeing CH-47 Chinook also remain candidates.

Whichever aircraft Boeing ultimately submits will depend on the results of the USN's ongoing analysis of alternatives, Dunford says.

Although the navy has not disclosed a timetable for a competition, Dunford says he expects a request for proposals to be issued in 2011. The possibility of Boeing offering a licensed version of the AW101, which includes transferring all intellectual property, data and production rights, would shake up the VXX competition.

A Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland team won the previous presidential helicopter contract in 2004, but a series of required design changes that drove up costs led to the termination of the contract five years later.

Lockheed has now teamed with Sikorsky, its former rival, to offer the VH-92 to the for the globally prized contract.

The USN wants to replace ageing Sikorsky VH-3Ds and VH-60Ns as soon as possible with 23-26 new aircraft. A request for information issued earlier this year hinted that it could divide the contract between two aircraft types.

Citing the need for competitive secrecy, Dunford declines to specify the airframe and engine configuration for the proposed Boeing 101 concept. Lockheed previously won the contract with an AW101 design powered by the General Electric CT7-8 engine.

Source: Flight International