The US Air Force is closely watching US Navy and Army plans to further develop the Sikorsky Black Hawk and Seahawk helicopters as it examines options to upgrade or replace its fleet of 105 HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue (CSAR) machines.


A USAF Air Combat Command (ACC) analysis of alternatives (AoA) has identified five options to meet its future CSAR mission. The study is due for completion in August, after which the USAF hopes to secure approval for an acquisition programme starting in 2003, says Maj Dave Morgan, deputy chief, CSAR mission team. Options include building or remanufacturing HH-60s to an improved Block 162 standard with new glass cockpit avionics, defensive aids and removing the internal auxiliary fuel tank to increase cabin space and replace it with an external belly mounted or "step" tank.

Key to the option is the army's planned UH-60X and the Common Engine Programme, which would replace the helicopter's General Electric T700-701 with a new 2,230kW (3,000shp) turbo-shaft to provide "more power and use less fuel", says Morgan.

ACC is also considering a US Navy-funded advanced technology demonstration programme to modify a SH-60F with a vectored thrust ducted propeller (VTDP) and composite wings (Flight International, 17-23 October, P23). It would also receive a 1.2m (4ft) forward cabin plug to offset centre-of-gravity changes.

"We're planning an 150h flight test programme, a portion of which will be with the wing off. We'll fly within the H-60's current dynamic airframe limitation of 180kt [330km/h], beyond which you can extrapolate," says Cdr Dave Spracklen, VTDP programme manager. The VDTP/H-60 will have a design speed of 230kt,but the helicopter would require expensive structural and powertrain modification to allow this.

The third H-60 option is a structural life extension of the existing Block 142 standard HH-60G. Other alternatives include the acquisition of a larger helicopter such as the EH Industries EH101 or Sikorsky S-92, or using ex-Special Operations Command MH-53s that are to be replaced by the Bell Boeing CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor. The fifth option is ordering a V-22 CSAR version.

Source: Flight International