Last April, the Secretary of Defense canceled the program to acquire a new generation of presidential helicopters. The cost of the program had skyrocketed largely as a result of requirements added on to the program after the contract had been awarded. The vehicles themselves, the US101, based on AgustaWestland’s proven EH101 airframe, were fine. The EH101 flies with about a dozen military and law enforcement organizations worldwide. In fact, five production aircraft have already been completed.
A new presidential helicopter is needed. The critical role for the presidential helicopter is to move the chief executive, his family and key staff rapidly and safely out of potential danger zones. The existing fleet is aging. More important, they can no longer carry the weight of equipment needed for presidential communications and security. A new helicopter also must have greater range and be more reliable than what is available in the current fleet.
The Department of Defense has launched an analysis of alternatives. Unless the analysis “dumbs down” the requirements — which would be irresponsible — the only possible aircraft that can meet the requirements will be the US101. It is powered by three engines which provide an extremely high degree of safety as well as enormous power to lift a full load. The engines power a unique five-bladed main rotor made of a carbon/glass composite with a honeycomb design and titanium edges. The unique main rotor design allows the US101 to land without throwing up dirt and dust that can blind a pilot and lead to accidents. With multiple fuel tanks, the US101 has greater range and speed than any potential competitor. Following a competition against the Sikorsky S-92, India has ordered 12 EH101 helicopters for its President and Prime Minister.
Given the way that AgustaWestland was treated by the defense department, one would not be surprised to have the company pass on the new competition for the presidential helicopter. Instead, according to recent press reports, the president of AgustaWestland’s parent company, Finmeccanica, has indicated that it will enter the new competition. This will be good for national security, for international defense trade and for foreign relations.
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