Sparks fly as Sikorsky suggests US101 team's machine falls short of requirements

The opening shots have been fired in the battle to win the US Marine Corps' VXX presidential helicopter competition, with the newly expanded AgustaWestland, Bell and Lockheed Martin US101 team refuting suggestions from rival Sikorsky that their machine falls short of requirements.

VXX shows all the signs of turning into a hotly contested political fight over local content, safety, reliability and performance. Under a new joint venture deal with AgustaWestland, Bell will assemble the US101 in the USA for system integrator and prime contractor Lockheed Martin, pushing local content up to 65%. Sikorsky, in turn, is downplaying the S-92's high level of foreign content, stressing that it owns all tooling and that the empennage for US military machines will not be built in China.

Sikorsky is also stepping up lobbying efforts for its proposed VH-92 by taking aim at the performance of the EH101. It claims the helicopter will not meet the notional hover-out-of-ground effect (HOGE) requirement to hover at maximum weight on a "Marine hot day" of 3,000ft (900m) and 33°C (91.5°F).

The VXX mission adds 1,820kg (4,000lb) of equipment to the basic S-92 and the USMC requires a 770kg growth margin. To meet this, Sikorsky plans to fit the VH-90 with the uprated General Electric CT7-8C turboshaft. AgustaWestland also plans to offer 12% more power, using either the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322-04/8 or CT7-8, which it says will achieve a 4,000ft/35°C HOGE.

VXX qualification is still under US Navy discussion, but is expected to combine stringent civil and military criteria. The recently certificated S-92 complies with the FAR/JAR 29 regulations. Sikorsky also says that only the S-92 has been tested for fuel system crashworthiness with installed equipment and surrounding structure and engine turbine burst zone protection.

AgustaWestland counters that the EH101 has Italian and Japanese certification, with JAR29 clearance with the uprated engine and a safe life alternative to flaw tolerance due in 2005. It adds that the helicopter now meets US Army crash standards. The company has also drop-tested the fuel tank and representative structure, and the machine's three engines are angled for burst containment.

Industry expects the operational requirements document to be ready by month-end and the request for proposals issued by September. Downselect is set for early next year, with a contract award in June 2004 for four to six aircraft for 2007/8 delivery and up to 23 by 2010-12 depending on whether the Sikorsky VH-60s are replaced as well as the VH-3Ds.

Source: Flight International