The US Coast Guard (USCG) has received from Sikorsky the first bare-bones airframe under a project to keep the service’s MH-60T Jayhawk medium-lift rescue helicopters flying into the 2040s.
Sikorsky plans to supply the USCG with 45 of the airframes, which are single structures consisting of nose sections, cabins and aft sections, through 2027 under a $374 million contract.
The USCG on 30 November confirmed the first airframe delivery, saying the milestone puts it on track to have its first refurbished MH-60T airborne in June 2024.
The work falls under the USCG’s Service Life Extension Programme (SLEP). While typical refurbishment efforts involve new engines and system updates, the SLEP programme involves the opposite – swapping out airframes.
The USCG is performing the heavy work at the Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
There, technicians will break down the 45 MH-60Ts, separating the old airframes from engines, systems and other components. Teams will then reassemble the aircraft around new airframes supplied by Sikorsky, the USCG says.
Officials with the service note that the helicopters’ structures are subject to corrosion due to operating in marine environments.
“To extend the service life of these aircraft, the Coast Guard… will remove all dynamic (moving) components, digital cockpit, mission systems and engines, then rebuild each aircraft around an all-new airframe,” it says.
Sikorsky intends to deliver 12 of the airframes annually through 2027.
The USCG operates 48 MH-60Ts, though three are former US Navy aircraft that fall outside the 45-strong refurbishment plan.
The helicopters are roughly 30 years old and have logged an average of 16,000h of flight – close to a 20,000h maximum service life.
The new airframes will allow the USCG to operate the MH-60Ts for at least another 10,000h, with officials saying the aircraft will likely be flying in the 2040s.