The US Navy's USS Saturn is due to depart at the end of April for five months at sea with different aircraft from those originally envisioned to be operated by commercial operator Evergreen Helicopters.

The Military Sealift Command (MSC) sea trial marks the third in a series of vertical replenishment (VERTREP) demonstrations to determine the feasibility of using commercial helicopters to resupply USN warships at sea.

Evergreen, of McMinnville, Oregon, beat Kaman Aerospace to the $4.5 million contract, although Kaman's K-MAX had been used successfully in the two previous VERTREP demonstrations.

US industry sources say that Evergreen had planned to buy Sikorsky S-61As from Louisiana Pacific. The California-based logging firm, however, sold the aircraft to Alaska-based Silver Bay Aviation, which declines to lease or sell the S-61As to Evergreen.

On winning the contract, Evergreen said that it would operate two S-61As from the vessel during the deployment. The MSC confirms, however, that the commercial operator was forced to switch to a Bell Helicopter Textron 212 and 214ST.

To encourage competition, the MSC lowered the external cargo-lift requirements to 1,815kg for one helicopter and 1,590kg for the other aircraft.

Additional capabilities desired include the ability to carry ten passengers internally - which cannot be achieved with the K-MAX.


Source: Flight International