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Having racked up more than 100 hours of test flight time in the last three months, Sikorsky on Sept. 24 was given the green light to begin production of the U.S. Air Force’s new HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter.
The so-called milestone C decision by the Air Force indicates the program to replace aging HH-60G Pave Hawks is sufficiently mature to enter low-rate initial production (LRIP). A Sept. 24 decision squeaked the production go-ahead into fiscal year 2019, taking advantage of funding that could have expired when the new year begins Oct. 1.
Sikorsky, a division of Lockheed Martin, has four test aircraft flying at its Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Together, they have flown more than 150 hours to expand the aircraft flight envelope and provide data for the milestone C decision. In June, with three test aircraft flying, Sikorsky had just 30 hours of flight test under its belt, but had plans to boost the test schedule to achieve the necessary 50 hours of flight test to allow for a production decision before the end of the current fiscal year.
“This affirmative milestone C decision validates the modifications to Sikorsky’s most successful Black Hawk helicopter, making it capable of saving downed airmen anytime, anywhere around the world,” said Greg Hames, Sikorsky program director. “This establishes the Combat Rescue Helicopter as a production program.”
Hames was brought in to right the ship after a blistering 2018 Defense Department program evaluation found several design deficiencies and schedule overruns. A veteran troubleshooter of the CH-53K King Stallion development, Hames was able to cut five months from the program and realign it with the Air Force’s desired schedule.
The Pentagon’s Director of Test and Evaluation report for 2018 weapon testing dinged the program for several deficiencies relating to aircraft survivability targets.