The next generation of helicopters to transport the President of the United States passed a critical design review, with the next step the manufacture of six production helicopters. The choppers, known as VH-92s, will likely be the most expensive helicopters ever made.
In the early 2000s, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps attempted to build a replacement for Marine One, the President's official transport helicopters. The current Marine One fleet is based on the Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King helicopter and were built around 1975, making them only 14 years older than President Obama himself. The U.S. Military retired the last of its Sea Kings in the 1990s.
The engineering requirements for Marine One make it one complicated helicopter. It has to have a full suite of defensive countermeasures to throw off the targeting and guidance systems of missiles. It has to be "hardened" against the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion. It needs sophisticated onboard communications, including the ability to hold secure video conferences with military and government leaders worldwide—including the commanders of America's nuclear arsenal. Finally, it needs a toilet.
A new Marine One, designated the VH-71 Kestrel, was to be developed by Lockheed Martin, based on the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland AW101 helicopter. The VH-71 suffered from engineering bloat, as requirements kept being added to the helicopter, drastically increasing weight and cost. The program to build 23 helicopters eventually ballooned to between $10 and $17 billion dollars. It was cancelled in June 2009 after three billion was spent. Even President Obama sounded skeptical of the need for a new helicopter, noting that the ones he was flying seemed "just fine".
In May 2014, a new contract was signed with longtime helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky for the a Marine One based on the Sikorsky S-92 medium helicopter. The S-92 can carry up to nineteen passengers, cruise at 174 miles an hour, and can fly for up to 539 nautical miles unrefueled. It was never bought by the U.S. Military, although it serves with the armed forces of several other countries, including Canada and South Korea.
The contract is for six helicopters at a cost of $1.42 billion dollars, with the first helicopter due in 2017. Seventeen more helicopters will follow, and assuming the rest of the fleet costs roughly the same, the total program will still cost almost $6 billion dollars—$9 billion if you factor in the VH-71 debacle, which you should.
If all goes according to plan—and hey, why would anyone suspect otherwise—the VH-92s should enter service in 2020. That'll be too late for President Obama, but will make a pretty nice ride for the next President—or the President after that.
Via USNI News