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Contenders for New Presidential Helicopter Lining Up

Earlier this century the Pentagon started a program managed by the Navy and Marine Corps to replace the existing helicopters used to transport the President. Currently a mix of Sikorsky, part of United Technologies (UTX), made VH-3 and VH-60 aircraft are used. Some of them are now over 40 years old. It was felt that a new system was needed that was more efficient, capable and equipped with modern communication equipment. This was the VH-71 program.

The VH-71 planned to use an aircraft from Augusta Westland modified by prime contractor Lockheed Martin (LMT). The program was to proceed in two stages with a few aircraft bought early to test and integrate modifications. This proceeded with several aircraft purchased and modified. The problems arose as the requirements for the second effort changed considerably over time leading to schedule and cost growth. By 2009 the program was several billion dollars over budget and was cancelled by the Obama Administration as part of their defense reforms.

A draft RFP was released this week for the new program. It plans to save money and manage schedule by requiring the use of an existing, in production aircraft which will be modified. It is requesting that the bidders plan to minimize changes to expensive parts of the aircraft such as the power train, transmission, structure and rotor system. A communication system is being developed separately that will be integrated onto the new aircraft.

The VH-71 suffered as the requirements meant new major systems had to be developed and integrated to meet power, range and hovering capability requirements. The RFP is for 23 aircraft at a cost of just under $1 billion with the first ones entering service in 2020.

Currently teams made up of Sikorsky and Lockheed and Augusta Westland and Northrop Grumman (NOC) are interested. Boeing (BA) may propose after doing analysis as to whether their large CH-47 or V-22 tilt rotor aircraft may meet the requirements.

The VXX program is aggressive in that it hopes to contain cost, schedule and technical creep. As the VH-71 program indicated it may be hard to do this. With the expected defense cuts coming up the contract is very attractive not only due to its size but also the prestige. As with other large aviation programs the winner may also expect several decades worth of support contracts which could be worth billions.

Photo from dailymatador’s flickr photostream.

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Pratt & Whitney to Deliver First JT8D-219 Engine for Re-engined Joint STARS Aircraft — Press Release

Pratt & Whitney to Deliver First JT8D-219 Engine for Re-engined Joint STARS Aircraft

EAST HARTFORD, Conn., March 3, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Pratt & Whitney will deliver its first reconfigured JT8D-219 engine, to Northrop Grumman later this month as part of the U.S. Air Force’s re-engined E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Radar System (Joint STARS) aircraft program. This delivery comes on the heels of FAA certification of several modifications to the engine. Pratt & Whitney is a United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX) company.

“This delivery is yet another notable milestone in the long history of the JT8D engine,” said Bev Deachin, vice president, Military Programs and Customer Support, Pratt & Whitney. “The JT8D-219 engine will enable a re-engined Joint STARS aircraft to operate with more thrust, while consuming less fuel, compared to the TF33 engines originally installed. This gives the Joint STARS aircraft higher operational altitude and longer mission duration, while significantly reducing the maintenance burden of the older engines. It’s a win-win proposition for our U.S. Air Force customer.”

Among the engine’s configuration modifications are: a nickel high-pressure compressor rotor system that provides enhanced corrosion resistance, external changes to accommodate mounting the engine under the aircraft’s wing, an enhanced bleed override system, and higher load-carrying towershaft and gearbox elements to accommodate increased power extraction.

If the U.S. Air Force chooses to retrofit its entire Joint STARS fleet, production quantities could be in excess of 80 engines. The JT8D-219 engine is assembled and tested in Pratt & Whitney’s Middletown, Conn., facility.

The current commercial JT8D-219 engine with external modifications has been certified to support B707 re-engining via the Supplemental Type Certificate approved by the FAA for Pratt & Whitney’s Joint Venture partner, Seven Q Seven. Seven Q Seven is a San Antonio, Texas-based company that converts and upgrades aircraft, primarily Boeing 707s, for commercial and military support applications. The E-8C is a modified B707-300.

Pratt & Whitney is a world leader in the design, manufacture and service of aircraft engines, space propulsion systems and industrial gas turbines. United Technologies, based in Hartford, Conn., is a diversified company providing high technology products and services to the global aerospace and building industries.
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