Until the King Stallion takes its place in the MAGTF, the Marines have 147 E-model Super Stallions scheduled to remain in the fleet until 2032. Sustainment plans give the CH-53E a T64-GE-419 engine upgrade, integrated survivability equipment, and the SRP radio plus LINK 16 connectivity.
Pioneering Marine Corps test squadron HMX-1 at Quantico, Virginia, now makes transporting the chief executive its primary mission. It continues to fly 11 1974-vintage VH-3Ds and eight 1989-era VH-60Ns awaiting a new presidential helicopter. The coming Sikorsky VH-92A integrates the civil-certified S-92A helicopter with a government-defined mission system and incorporates electromagnetic hardening, an enhanced environmental control system, and fuel jettison provisions. Development testing is limited to the differences between the S-92A and VH-92A for FAA airworthiness certification and validation of required performance.
Sikorsky has delivered two EDM aircraft to be instrumented for contractor testing and government-led integrated testing including a VH-92 operational assessment. Four system demonstration test articles used for integrated testing and initial operational test and evaluation ultimately transition to operational use.
Twenty-one VH-92A production helicopters will modernize the presidential fleet from FY 2019 to FY 2023. The VH-92A should assume the HMX-1 operational mission beginning in the fourth quarter of FY 2020 and achieve full operational capability by the fourth quarter of FY 2022. To bridge the gap until the new presidential fleet is operational, both the VH-3D Sea King and VH-60N White Hawk are receiving cockpit, cabin, and dynamic improvements including a Wide Band Line of Sight secure strategic communications system.
Training in Transition
Still to be modernized is the Navy training helicopter fleet. About 117 Bell TH-57 Sea Rangers remain the primary and advanced trainers for U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard aviators, and for those of foreign militaries. Today’s TH-57Bs and -Cs were bought from 1981 to 1985 and are the last Navy airframes without digital cockpits. A digital TH-57D was cancelled in 2012 due to technical and cost issues. Funding was re-aligned to manage Sea Ranger obsolescence and keep the training platform viable for the near future. The Navy is analyzing industry input for advanced helicopter training options.
In addition to digital cockpit upgrades, concerns about airframe fatigue and the costs to repair and replace limited parts underscore the need for a replacement airframe. The Navy will continue to work with industry to examine cost-effective alternatives to train future rotary-wing naval aviators.