The US Air Force will return most of the money Congress appropriated for its axed Common Vertical Lift Support Platform (CVLSP) requirement to other operational needs, a senior service official said on 27 March.

"The $53 million would be ether rescinded or returned to the air force for other operational requirements," Maj Gen Robert Kane, the USAF's director of global reach programmes, told Congress.

The air force does not plan on spending the $53 million to upgrade 22 surplus US Marine Corps Bell UH-1Ns that would be transferred to the service. It has yet to decide whether it will fly, store, or simply strip those machines for spare parts when it receives them in 2012 and 2014, Kane says.

The USAF is exploring alternatives to buying a new helicopter to fill the CVLSP role, which includes boosting security at missile sites and new ways to transport VIPs in Washington DC.

Some of the money might be used to upgrade the existing UH-1Ns that are being used for nuclear security and dignitary transport missions, he says. Those aircraft might receive crashworthy seats, cockpits that are compatible with night-vision goggles and other modifications.


© US Air Force

Additionally, the USAF might consider leasing an aircraft rather than buying one, Kane says. But the service has not done so thus far.

Meanwhile, only 93 of the remaining fleet of 99 Sikorsky HH-60G search and rescue helicopters are flyable. They are soldiering on despite major cracks in 66 of the airframes. The aircraft have a mission capable rate of 60%, but that is expected to fall to 50% by 2015, Kane says.

 HH-60G - USAF

© US Air Force

The USAF originally had 112 HH-60Gs, but has lost a large number of the aircraft over the years. It is modifying its remaining examples to keep them viable in the short term until it can recapitalise the fleet. The service is also investing in an operational loss replacement programme to buy Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks via the US Army.

But the full replacement programme, called the combat rescue helicopter, is still under way, Kane says. The USAF issued a new draft request for proposal on 16 March, with a final version to follow in May. Initial operational capability should happen in 2018 if the USAF can stick to its new plan.

Additionally, officials from the US Army, USMC, US Navy and USAF reaffirmed their support for a future joint vertical lift aircraft that would push the limits of rotorcraft technology. The army hopes to field such a machine in the 2030s, starting with medium-size utility and attack variants, Maj Gen William Crosby told Congress.

Source: Flight International