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Cleared for take-off: Air Force OKs new Sikorsky combat rescue helicopter for initial production

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Air Force Reserve helicopter pilots and crew with the 920th Rescue Wing here make final preparations moments before flying to the Gulf region where Airmen from the wing will provide search and rescue support for those affected by Hurricane Ike. (U.S. Air Force photo / Capt. Cathleen Snow)

The U.S. Air Force has cleared for initial production a new Sikorsky combat rescue helicopter based on the venerable Black Hawk helicopter, parent company Lockheed Martin Corp. said.

The helicopter will perform combat search-and-rescue and personnel recovery operations for all U.S. military services.

The four test aircraft at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., demonstrated production readiness during Air Force performance and flight load survey testing. The decision, which was announced Tuesday, allows Sikorsky to begin production of the aircraft, which is based on the Black Hawk helicopter.

There are five combat ready helicopter aircraft in different stages of production at Sikorsky’s Stratford plant.

“This decision begins the transition to this more capable and reliable helicopter to fulfill the Air Force’s mission to leave no one behind,” said Col. Dale R. White, program executive officer of Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Special Operations Forces at the Air Force.

The Air Force decision “validates the modifications to Sikorsky’s most successful Black Hawk helicopter, making it capable of saving downed airmen anytime, anywhere around the world,” said Greg Hames, Sikorsky program director.

The Air Force program calls for 113 helicopters to replace its predecessor, the Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawks. The cost for the new aircraft is about $70 million each, according to Richard Aboulafia, vice president at Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va., research organization. He cited Air Force budget documents.

The new helicopter includes a fuel system that nearly doubles the capacity of the internal tank on a Black Hawk, giving the Air Force crew extended range and more capability to rescue those injured in battle. It also improves the craft’s performance in hovering, electrical capacity, avionics, cooling, weapons, cyber-security and environmental capabilities.

In October 2018, Sikorsky Aircraft celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Black Hawk helicopter.


© 2019 The Hartford Courant