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Boeing renews interest in US EH101 production deal

PAUL LEWIS / WASHINGTON DC

Requirement for new VXX presidential helicopter sparks talks on co-operation

Boeing is again showing interest in partnering EH Industries and Lockheed Martin to produce locally the US101 version of the EH101 helicopter in response to US Department of Defense attempts to accelerate the VXX requirement for a new presidential helicopter to replace US Marine Corps-operated Sikorsky VH-3Ds.

The Philadelphia-based helicopter manufacturer has been discussing co-operating with EADS to promote the NH Industries NH90 in return for assistance selling the CH-47 Chinook in Europe. Boeing's growing interest in the larger US101 follows an apparent decision by secretary of the navy John Young to shortlist the machine, together with a proposed VIP Bell Boeing VV-22 Osprey and Sikorsky H-92 for more detailed examination.

Planning had called for a replacement to enter service around 2014, but Young is understood to want to accelerate the VH-3D's retirement to 2006. As a result the USMC has begun writing a VXX operational requirements document. While this schedule should not prove a problem for EHI or Sikorsky, it does present a challenge for Bell Boeing as the Osprey is scheduled to only just enter USMC operational service by 2006.

EHI and systems integrator Lockheed Martin hope to have the full US101 team in place early next year. Talks are taking place with manufacturers, including Bell, Boeing and Kaman, which are believed to have sent industrial teams to AgustaWestland's UK plant. "Boeing is continually looking for new business applications and part of that is talking to companies about possibilities," says the company.

An initial study by the Center of Naval Analysis examined 22 helicopter types, ranging from the Sikorsky CH-53E and Mil Mi-26to the Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor, and including the 6,000kg (13,200lb) NH90. They were measured against VH-3D-comparable criteria of 11 passengers and 1,560kg baggage, and a need for a 16-seat cabin. The considerations also included hover out-of-ground-effect performance and the need for VIP modifications.

As part of its bidding process, AgustaWestland has developed a system to airlift the EH101 aboard a Boeing C-17. It demonstrated this in the UK at RAF Brize Norton. Units allow the landing gear to be retracted and the machine lowered.

Meanwhile, the company has handed over the last of 22 EH101 Merlin HC3s for the UK Royal Air Force and completed the 44th and last Merlin HM1 for the Royal Navy.

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