Phase 1 will replace ageing Pave Hawk fleet while Phase 2 demands higher speeds

The US Air Force has decided to split a planned tender for 132 new combat search-and-rescue helicopters between equal fleets of two very different types of aircraft.

Under Phase 1 of the Personnel Recovery Vehicle (PRV) programme, the air force plans to buy 61 helicopters to replace its ageing fleet of around 105 Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawks.

Performance requirements call for the selection of an aircraft that can achieve a maximum speed of 185kt (340km/h) and be delivered as early as 2011 - three years earlier than originally planned.

New acquisition documents released late last month show that air force officials have decided to shift the remaining half of the orders to Phase 2 of the PRV programme. This calls for an aircraft that can achieve speeds greater than 300kt and that can be deployed within the next two decades.

For Phase 1, Sikorsky's S-92 is known to be competing with the Lockheed Martin US101 team, which includes AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter.

Neither aircraft can approach the speeds required in Phase 2 of the PRV plan, which can now only be achieved by tilt-rotor and fixed-wing aircraft.

The USAF established a PRV project office at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio earlier this year and is moving to launch a tender for the programme by 2006.



Source: Flight International