One of the most politically-charged rotorcraft competitions of recent years will come to a head within months when the US Marine Corps' VXX presidential helicopter contest is decided.


The highly contentious two-way fight, which pits Sikorsky and the S-92 against a combined team of AgustaWestland, Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter with the US101, is critically important for the contenders but is also seen as an indicator on the future direction of the US helicopter industry.

Both the S-92 and EH101, the baseline aircraft for the US101, are on display in Paris, but it is events on the other side of the Atlantic, where the final marketing push is in full swing, which will ultimately tip the balance either way.

The US101 provides AgustaWestland with the opportunity for a long sought-after breakthrough into the US military market, while Sikorsky is equally determined to win the competition for around 25 aircraft to replace Sikorsky VH-3Ds and possibly VH-60s.


With local content a hugely important factor, the competing teams each claim to hold sway. The addition of Bell as airframer for the US101 in the run-up to Paris confirmed the 'Americanisation' of the EH101. Lockheed Martin is prime contractor on the programme with Bell acting as sub-contractor. The US101 team claims now to have an aircraft containing 65% local content.

Sikorsky is equally bullish about the suitability of the S-92. It will own all tooling on the proposed VH-92 variant and the empennages will not be built in China as with the S-92. The aircraft was certificated recently and Sikorsky is also pushing the S-92's safety features, which include fuel system crashworthiness with installed equipment and engine turbine burst zone protection.

Both aircraft have been performing marketing flights in the US out of Andrews AFB, Maryland, giving the decision-makers on Capitol Hill a side-by-side comparison.


Stephen Moss, president of AgustaWestland in the US, is plain-speaking when it comes to the ambition of the US101 team: "We want to have our aircraft on the White House lawn in 2007." Jeff Pino, Sikorsky senior vice-president, business development counters that the S-92 offers an unrivalled combination of safety and performance.

Downselect is set for early next year with an in-service date of 2007 for the first aircraft in Lot 1. Lot 2 would be delivered in the 2010-12 timeframe.

Source: Flight Daily News