First Presidential helo test vehicle arrives


Nov 12, 2005
Low and Slow
by Jim Jenkins
NAWCAD Public Affairs

The excitement swelled as members of the Presidential Helicopter team poured out of their workspaces and onto the tarmac to see the first fruits of their labor finally realized.

The first VH-71 test vehicle landed at Pax on Nov. 2, and immediately began undergoing familiarization training for pilots and maintainers.

"What we will be doing with the airplane is largely training. Getting Marines, Navy guys, contractors, pilots and maintainers a jump start in learning this thing," said Doug Isleib, Presidential Helicopters program manager. "There was a lot of excitement last week as we got the aircraft in. It pretty much emptied out our whole building. The whole team has been working on it since well before source selection in January. To see it here at Pax was a great morale boost for us."

The VH-71A will provide the office of the president a mobile command and control capability, featuring seamless and secure informational connectivity essential in the post 9-11 security environment.

Presidential helicopters provide helicopter transportation to the president and vice president of the United States, heads of state and other official parties.

As an integrated "system of systems," the VH-71A will feature latest generation technology with open systems architecture to provide not just a transportation platform, but also a complete, compact and mobile command and control capability. The VH-71A will provide: increased performance; improved mission, communications and navigation systems; improved maintainability; and expanded potential for future growth.

The current helicopter fleet that support the presidential mission, VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters, includes 30-year- old aircrafts that were designed in the 1960s, fielded in the 1970s and, while still safe and reliable, no longer has the growth capability to incorporate the equipment necessary to provide suitable presidential support in the post 9-11 environment.

Technically, TV1 is a leased Italian Navy EH-101 helicopter. Because of the challenging schedule the program is under, leadership decided to lease the initial test article to get a head start on flight and maintainer training, Isleib said. Also, having the EH-101 here now, will allow the program team to figure out where to place system antennae and other communication systems. TV1 will act as sort of a practice test bed before the three actual test vehicles arrive in the spring of 2007. Flight-testing of the VH-71A began with engine integration testing on a contractor vehicle in December 2004. TV1 arrived at Owego on June 10, and shortly after began more involved flight-testing.

The new hangar facility, to be completed sometime next fall, will house all the test and evaluation, program management and depot work on the VH-71 aircraft.

"There has been a lot of effort in getting everything we can in there," Isleib said. "Both the tower and the hangar are ahead of schedule. When we're done with it as a test facility, the hangar will turn into the depot facility for the president's helicopters instead of sending them back to the original equipment manufacturer."

Despite the morale boost for the team, the arrival of TV1 is just a small, preliminary step in the beginning phases of test and evaluation of the VH-71. But last week's arrival represents the first tangible part of development flight test that the team has seen, Isleib said.

"They've been working for a couple of very hard years on putting this program together and getting out of the starting chocks," Isleib said. "They went through a very aggressive, very high-profile and very rigorously executed selection process, and now they're seeing the first fruits of that. Now, they have a no-kidding helicopter here and it's just the first of many to come."