Sikorsky receives second VH-92A production contract

The US Navy has contracted Sikorsky – a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin – to produce and deliver six VH-92A helicopters for the US Marine Corps (USMC) under the Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program (PHRP).

The firm fixed-price contract modification – worth US$471m – exercises the navy’s option to procure six VH-92As under Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot II, along with associated interim contractor support and six cabin interior reconfiguration kits. 

VH-92A [Sikorsky]
A VH-92A on the tarmac at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. US Navy via Sikorsky

The six VH-92As – which are military variants of Sikorsky’s S-92 civil-operated medium-lift utility helicopters – are part of a planned fleet of 23 aircraft. The VH-92s will replace the ageing VH-3D Sea King presidential transports that form the core of the USMC’s 'Marine One' fleet – operated by Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1), based at Marine Corps Air Facility Quantico, Virginia. Deliveries of these six LRIP Lot II aircraft will begin in 2022, with the remaining production aircraft expected to be delivered by the end of 2023.

Col Eric Ropella, PMA-274 presidential helicopter programme manager at the USMC, said: “The [programme] continues to progress on budget and within our planned acquisition timeline… The award of LRIP Lot II reinforces the importance of this Marine Corps no-fail mission especially as we move into the next phase of government testing this year.”

As of February 25, five VH-92As have been transferred to the US government for testing at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland. A sixth aircraft is going through the final stages of modification and will be handed over for US government-led testing this spring.

VH-92A [USMC/Sgt Hunter Helis] #1
A VH-92A in testing with HMX-1 performs test flights over the south lawn of the White House, Washington DC, in September 2018. USMC/Sgt Hunter Helis

The aircraft has surpassed more than 1,000 flight hours during US government testing, during which the VH-92As have undergone rigorous operational assessments to establish the aircraft’s production readiness, technical maturity and mission system readiness. Sikorsky adds that the VH-92A is on track to meet its upcoming milestones, with the aircraft due to enter Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) later this year.

Dave Banquer, Sikorsky’s VH-92A programme director, said: “Now that we are ramping up production, the [programme] is gaining momentum… This second contract award demonstrates the confidence the confidence the [USMC] has in Sikorsky’s proven ability to deliver and support the next-generation presidential helicopter.”

The six aircraft that were produced under the first LRIP contract are undergoing modifications at Sikorsky’s facility in Stratford, Connecticut, with deliveries expected to begin next year. During production, the company and the US Navy integrate matured mission communication systems into the VH-92A – enabling the US President and other high-ranking government officials to continue to perform their duties during flight.

VH-92A [USMC/Sgt Hunter Helis] #2
The VH-92A landing on the south lawn of the White House will soon become a common sight in Washington DC as it replaces the VH-3D Sea King in presidential transportation. USMC/Sgt Hunter Helis

In a press release, Sikorsky added that “the VH-92A aircraft will provide safe, reliable and capable transportation for the President and Vice President” and that the programme “ensures long-term affordability and maintainability by [utilising] the FAA-certified S-92 aircraft which has industry leading reliability and availability”.

“The men and women of Sikorsky treasure our legacy of building and providing helicopter transportation for every President and Commander in Chief since Dwight D Eisenhower… We are proud to continue that legacy with the VH-92A helicopter”, Banquer concluded.

HX-1 currently operates a total of 11 VH-3D Sea Kings, which have been in service since 1978. These helicopters are augmented by an eight-strong fleet of VH-60N Night Hawks – a derivative of the UH-60 Black Hawk – which entered service in 1987.