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​Marine One to hit first flight this summer

Sikorsky is set to complete first flight this summer of the VH-92, the Marine One configuration of its commercial, heavy-lift S-92 helicopter.

Two developmental model aircraft, EDM 1 and 2, are making their way into the VH-92 configuration today at Sikorsky’s facility in Stratford, Connecticut, says US Marine Corps Col Robert Pridgen, presidential helicopter programme manager for Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

“Later this summer, [we’ll] break the deck in a VH configuration and hit that first flight on time,” he told reporters 4 April at the annual Sea Air Space conference outside Washington.

The programme is on schedule and should receive approval for production in 2019, he adds. Sikorsky and the Marines have also jumped ahead of schedule by removing some capabilities from the aircraft, such as the ability to dump fuel from aircraft.

After ballooning costs and expanded capabilities threw the Marine One replacement programme off the rails almost a decade ago, the Marines have taken a more spartan approach to the helicopter recapitalisation. Since the USMC signed the contract with Sikorsky three years ago, design on the aircraft has remained stable, Pridgen says. The USMC has been able to fend off exquisite capabilities by creating a more structured programme, he says.

“One of the key things to that process is the ability to say the word,'no',” he says. “It’s very tempting because we’re just in development, to take that and integrate that in. There has to be a very compelling reason to make that change, that mitigates a lot of risk.”

While US president Donald Trump has taken aim at the price tag for the Air Force One recapitalisation, he has yet to comment on his rotary wing transportation. That’s not to say Marine One hasn’t already taken fire from its presidential passengers.

Shortly after his inauguration in 2009, then-president Barack Obama called out the rising costs of the Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland VH-71A Kestrel, which the Marines originally selected over the S-92 in 2004. But the VH-71A programme entered a vortex of engineering changes and spiraling costs. The Pentagon ordered Lockheed to end work on the programme in 2010 and awarded a new contract to Sikorsky, which Lockheed acquired in 2015.

The USMC hasn’t heard of any concern from Trump and communicates with the White House Military Office daily, Pridgen says.

“The feedback we’ve gotten is, ‘keep doing what you’re doing, don’t be late',” he says. “It’s a good rapport and it’s a joint effort in terms of requirements.”

Capabilities are concrete at this point on the VH-92, but there’s room down the road to update technology, Pridgen says. The service plans to present a next-generation radio as one update for the helicopter, he says.

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