Sikorsky's Black Hawk military helicopter has a stable base for production over the next 20 years, company president Dean Borgman told Flight Daily News before the show started.

"Black Hawk has been an unbelievably successful product for us," said Borgman, "and the $220 million UH-60M upgrade contract from the US Army secures the aircraft's future for more than two decades."

The UH-60M research, development, test and evaluation (RTD&E) contract will involve up to 1,200 aircraft. Sikorsky will build four UH-60M test articles, three from existing UH-60 airframes and one from the production line.

Work on the first 12 low-rate initial production aircraft will begin in 2004, ramping up via an 18-aircraft follow-on lot to a rate of 60 aircraft a year by 2006. The US Army has earmarked 900 UH-60As and about 300 UH-60Ls for modification.

The UH-60M, to be fielded from 2006, will feature digital avionics and flight controls, graphite main rotor blades, a strengthened fuselage and infra-red suppression.

The UH-60As will receive the 1,340kW (1,800shp) General Electric T700-701 turboshaft and the improved-durability gearbox of the UH-60L as part of the upgrade.

The US Defense Acquisition Board has also specified an additional increase in payload-range which will be the basis for the UH-60X programme. This has yet to secure funding but is likely to involve the conversion of more than 250 Black Hawks from 2010.

Source: Flight Daily News