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Thursday, November 9, 2006

USAF Stuns Helo Industry, Picks Boeing CH-47 for CSAR-X

In a move that stunned most observers, the U.S. Air Force picked Boeing’s CH-47—a time-honored workhorse that dates back to the 1960s—over AgustaWestland’s EH101 and Sikorksy’s S-92 to build its next-generation of helicopters to search and rescue aircrews shot down behind enemy lines. A team led by Boeing’s rotorcraft division near Philadelphia won an initial, $712 million contract to build four test aircraft and the first batches of operational HH-47 variants of the Chinook to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of about 100 Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopters.

The Chinook was widely viewed as too big and noisy and of too old a design to stand a chance in the Air Force competition. AgustaWestland was teamed with Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter on its bid for the Combat Search and Rescue-X (CSAR-X) program, with Lockheed Martin as the lead. Sikorsky was teamed with another division of Boeing, among other companies.

The award is a remarkable endorsement of Boeing’s efforts over the last several years to reduce the cost of building and operating Chinooks, by redesigning key components. Those efforts persuaded the U.S. Army not only to rebuild existing Chinooks with the redesigned components but also to order hundreds of new-build ones, the first of which made its maiden flight in Philadelphia on Oct. 23. The Air Force is piggybacking on those cost-cutting efforts. Its order will require Boeing to expand its Philadelphia production line.

The contract covers the system design and development of the test aircraft and production of up to 141 operational ones, as well as related training and support systems, through 2019. The program is valued at $10 billion.

Compared to the Pave Hawks, the CSAR-X aircraft are intended to increase survivability, range, payload capacity, battle space awareness, and performance in adverse weather while decreasing mission reaction time. Program officials are seeking an initial operational capability by the first quarter of fiscal 2012. That capability is defined as five aircraft delivered to USAF’s formal training site and five to the first operational site, each set with the related training and support systems. For more, read the December issue of Rotor & Wing magazine.
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