NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The new VH-92 Presidential Helicopter that will replace two legacy fleets of “white top” VIP rotorcraft is scheduled to make its maiden flight this summer.

Three years into the program, Sikorsky has delivered two engineering development aircraft and is ahead of its contractual schedule, according to Marine Col. Robert Pridgen, head of the Joint Presidential Helicopters Program Office.

 “I’m looking forward to seeing this thing break the surly bonds this summer,” Pridgen told reporters during a briefing at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space conference in National Harbor, Md.

A Sikorsky rendering of the VH-92
A Sikorsky rendering of the VH-92

Once it achieves first flight, the two test aircraft already built will undergo a year of manufacturer qualification testing before Marines get their hands on the aircraft, which is scheduled for summer 2018 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

A milestone C decision to begin low-rate initial production is expected in fiscal 2019. The Marine Corps plans to declare initial operational capability in fiscal 2020 with four aircraft, crew and necessary spare parts, Pridgen said.  

Based on Sikorsky’s commercial S-92 twin-engine, medium-lift helicopter, the VH-92 will replace the 11 VH-3D Sea King and eight VH-60N “White Hawk” helicopters that the Marine Corps operates as an executive rotorcraft fleet assigned exclusively to the president, vice president and other heads of state.

“Once this lands on the South Lawn, you won’t see any more H-3s or H-60s, this is ‘the’ aircraft,” Pridgen said.

The Marine Corps program of record is for two test and 21 operational aircraft. The first four are under construction and the remaining 17 will be procured over a three-year period beginning in fiscal 2019.

The S-92, originally designed to shuttle personnel to and from offshore oil rigs, has about 1.1 million collective flight hours across 275 copies currently fielded, said Spencer Elani, Sikorsky’s VH-92 program director.

Because the S-92 already has FAA certification, the VH-92 only will have to prove its air worthiness in the Marine Corps’ required configuration before it is cleared for service. Pridgen said retaining that FAA certification was key to keeping the program on schedule and budget.

Major after-market modifications made to the basic S-92 include installation of communications equipment that meet government specifications and survivability enhancements. Sikorsky was able to integrate those systems and install the “executive” interior while remaining within the FAA certified weight limits and Marine Corps lift, speed and range requirements, Elani said.

Sikorsky also was able to increase the maximum gross weight at takeoff from 26,500 pounds to 27,700 pounds while building in margin for growth in power generation, Elani said.

Sikorsky is a business of Lockheed Martin [LMT].