The US Navy plans to study the feasibility of using commercially operated helicopters for vertical replenishment (vertrep) of ships.

A request for proposals for a two-month demonstration was scheduled to be released on 26 May. Kaman Aerospace plans to respond with a bid based around the K-MAX commercial external-lift helicopter.

Eurocopter and Sikorsky may also submit bids, based on the Super Puma and Black Hawk, respectively.

The demonstration will be conducted by Military Sealift Command (MSC), which now uses US Navy Boeing CH-46s for vertrep. MSC was nominated to run the feasibility demonstration because of its experience in handling commercial leases.

The US Navy, which is planCH-46s used for vertrep, will provide technical assistance.

MSC is looking for a commercially certificated helicopter, operated and maintained by the bidder. The requirement calls for a helicopter with a gross weight of less than 11,300kg, able to carry a 2,000kg external load and able to fit inside existing ship's hangars.

The winner will conduct seven demonstrations, covering different vertrep missions, using two helicopters.

Following the feasibility flights, the USN plans a two-year programme to demonstrate the use of low-cost, commercially operated helicopters in the vertrep mission.

The programme is one of 12 advanced-technology concept demonstrations (ATCDs) approved by the US Department of Defense in late May for funding in 1996. The ATCDs are intended to accelerate the fielding of new technologies.

Kaman says that it demonstrated the single-seat, single-engined K-MAX's vertrep abilities to the USN in September 1994.

Source: Flight International