The Sikorsky HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Recovering from a stinging Pentagon program evaluation in 2018, Sikorsky [LMT] has addressed design deficiencies in its HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter development and was able to cut five months from the program to get it back on track with the government’s prescribed schedule.

Sikorsky has already logged 30 hours of shakedown flight time in the two HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter test aircraft it has flying and should begin data-gathering flights by the Fourth of July. The first aircraft flew May 17. The second followed it on May 23 and the final two are scheduled to fly in August, according to CRH Director Greg Hames.

“Shakedown is … testing out propulsion, dynamics, avionics, and handling qualities to really show that the Black Hawk pedigree is consistent with the Air Force specifications,” Hames said.

The first test aircraft took off en route to Lake Okeechobee and surrounds for a 1.5-hour flight on June 25 while sister publication Rotor&Wing was visiting the site. Company and Air Force security considerations forbid photographs, but the orange instrumentation equipment was clearly visible as the aircraft accelerated over the runway here. The aircraft are fully configured as the HH-60W, complete with dual 50 cal. door guns mounted on either side.

A total 50 flight hours is required for the Air Force to make a milestone C decision to enter low-rate initial production. That decision is scheduled for September, meaning before the end of fiscal 2019, so funding doesn’t bleed over into 2020.

All four aircraft are at Sikorsky’s 5,800-acre wetland research wilderness inland from Palm Beach, Fla. Two are flying. The third is in fuel-system evaluation and the fourth is being assembled and readied for its five-day fuel system eval before flying in August. When all four are airborne, the program should manage to perform two or three test flights per week, Hames said.

The Pentagon’s Director of Test and Evaluation report for 2018 weapon testing dinged the program for several deficiencies relating to aircraft survivability targets. Hames said the program has either corrected or is in the process of certifying fixes for those problems — dealing with the crew seats, the rescue hoist, ballistic performance and the gun mount design for the FN Herstal-built machine guns.

Hames said all but the gun mount redesign has been addressed and the program is back on schedule, having also shaved five months off the time it should take to ready the aircraft for production.

The Air Force is replacing its fleet of HH-60G Pave Hawks with 113 new-build HH-60Ws, all of which will be built in Stratford, Connecticut. The four EMD aircraft were built there and trucked to south Florida specifically for flight testing.

Main improvements in the modern W-model design are the all-glass integrated digital avionics and a 600-gallon internal fuel storage. The new combat rescue helicopter has a range of 450 nautical miles with a maximum interior gross weight of 22,500 pounds.

Pending a successful LRIP decision in September, the Air Force will award $564 million in contracts for LRIP lot one – 10 aircraft – and 12 aircraft in lot two. Those contracts have already been negotiated, Hames said.

“We’re in the process right now of putting together the proposal for lots three through five which we will look to submit by the end of the year,” Hames said.