The next U.S. president is going to be travelling in a next-generation helicopter.
You may have heard of Air Force One, the plane that carries the president around the U.S. and the world, but have you heard of the president’s Helicopter Marine One?
Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation is working closely with the U.S. Navy to create the ultimate next-gen helicopter fit for the Commander in Chief. And they just got one big step closer to making it a reality.
The Marine Corps HMX-1 helicopter squadron flies the presidential helo fleet. The current fleet includes VH-3Ds and VH-60Ns. Since 1957, HMX-1 has been entrusted with the important mission of ensuring that the president reaches places swiftly and safely by helicopter.
In 2014, the Navy gave Sikorsky a $1.2 billion contract to build 21 operational and two test helicopters. The previous initiative to build a new helo, VXX, for the president was abandoned due to extreme costs and delays.
To help keep costs down Sikorsky is starting with the already-FAA certified S-92A aircraft as a foundation. The company will be transforming the S-92A to meet presidential needs – think pimping it out and amping it up.
Known as the VH-92A, the new helo will transport the president, vice president and other officials as necessary. A fleet, rather than just one helo, is required for a number of reasons – decoys, for example, are flown to help keep the president safe from attack.
The details are kept secret for security reasons, but reports on the previous project suggest a range of features a world leader would require. In addition to the design ensuring it can land on the White House South Lawn, other reported specs include the ability to carry more weight and fly further without refueling.
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Features like encrypted videoconferencing and other comms are necessary to enable the president to work securely during flights. And to travel safely, the aircraft would be hardened against all sorts of attacks from electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) through to missiles.
Sikorsky recently announced the acceptance of its second S-92A aircraft for the presidential helicopter replacement program. It also announced the completion of communication system integration and performance testing.
“This is but one of many steps toward the replacement for our Presidential Fleet of helicopters,” U.S. Marine Corps Col. Robert Pridgen, program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command’s Presidential Helicopters Program Office, in the statement. “I am pleased how effectively we’ve gotten out of the gate and established a solid foundation on which we’ll mature the detailed design work of this important program.“
The S-92 will be the point of departure for developing the new presidential helo. So here’s what you need to know about that aircraft.
Powered by two GE CT7-8A engines, it reaches speeds of about 190 mph with a range of approximately 160 miles. The all-composite main and tail rotor blades are FAA certified for tough flight challenges like icing conditions and bird strikes.
For maximum passenger safety, the helicopter features a highly crashworthy fuel system and landing gear.
What’s the ride like?
What will the inside of the ride look like? The interior will be tailored as befits a president, but here’s a look at some of the S-92’s standard features.
The current S-92 interior can be precooled or heated before boarding. To get in and out of the helo, there are different door options available – VIPs, for example, often opt for the “air stair” doors.
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The president could expect a very smooth ride thanks to the S-92’s active vibration control tech. The cabin is spacious and, for those under six feet tall, it’s comfortable to walk around in. There’s also a large storage area for personal belongings.
The aim is to initially field the new helicopters in 2020 with complete fleet delivery by 2023.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.