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Sun, Nov 25, 2007

Lockheed Martin's Presidential Helicopter May Not Lift White House Load

Helicopters Being Replaced In Great Britain And US

As helicopters used for ferrying the royalty of Great Britain and the President of the United States wear out, new aircraft by an all American firm will be able to provide a sufficient aircraft to Her Majesty. However; another US manufacturer using an essentially British-designed airframe may not fit the White House mission.

On November 19, Sikorsky officials in the US announced that it will continue to be the helicopter of choice to be used by Her Majesty the Queen, and will deliver a custom-made chopper in 2009 to the Queens Helicopter Flight.

"The new S76 C++ (shown above) will provide the Royal Family with a helicopter service for official engagements, was chosen as... providing the best value and producing the lowest carbon footprint," said Captain Christopher Pittaway, Manager and Chief Pilot of The Queen's Helicopter Flight.

Sikorsky was very pleased about the announcement.

"We are honored that the Royal Family... entrust their safety and comfort to us," said Steve Estill, a marketing Vice President for Sikorsky.

At the same time in the US, the President's "Marine One" helicopter is also being replaced. The aircraft chosen by the Navy for the President's helicopter "Marine One" is to be built by Lockheed Martin, based on a British design known as the Merlin, made by AgustaWestland. The AgustaWestland firm was to supply the Merlin based airframe in order to replace the elder "Marine One" Sikorsky.

But the Navy's requirements, and 800 design changes, may take it out of the running. Lockheed Martin's winning design has left the new bird, the VH-71, some 2,000 pounds overweight. Efforts to fix the problem have required such a rethinking of its structure that, in the words of one source quoted by Newsweek, "we're essentially designing a new helicopter." In a $1.7 billion deal, Lockheed was to fit the helicopters to be resilient against a nuclear blast and also fitted with a communications suite equal to that of the Oval Office, as well as state of the art missile defenses, and a 14-person cabin (complete with executive bathroom).

The problem according to the Register in London, is that the Merlin can't sustain a hover in dead air, and the craft has been known to have problems while heavily loaded.

While the Navy and Lockheed Martin have had many discussions over helicopter's design, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. John Schofield acknowledged "some requirement misunderstandings early in the program," but he said that Lockheed and the Navy are now "in agreement … and have made significant progress."

FMI: www.sikorsky.com, www.lockheedmartin.com/wms/findPage.do?dsp=fec&ci=13944&rsbci=13005&fti=122&ti=0&sc=400

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