WASHINGTON: The Pentagon on Wednesday awarded Sikorsky Aircraft a $1.2 billion contract to build six new US presidential helicopters to replace the current aging fleet of “Marine One” aircraft.
The effort to replace the 19 helicopters that transport the American president has dragged on for years, after a previous project led by Lockheed Martin was cancelled in 2009 over massive cost overruns.
Unlike the last attempt that required a long list of new technical improvements, the latest plan is less ambitious and is based on Sikorsky’s S-92 chopper, which is already used by governments and private companies around the world.
The twin-engine S-92, which has been in service since 2004, is flown by government agencies for search and rescue operations and by oil firms to ferry workers to offshore platforms. The military version can carry 22 passengers.
Sikorsky has built all previous presidential choppers starting with an aircraft regularly used by president Dwight Eisenhower in 1957.
Under the contract, Sikorsky will build six aircraft and two trainer simulators for the US Marine Corps, the first step in a plan to construct 21 new choppers by 2023.
The current presidential fleet, known for its distinctive green and white paint job, is a mix of larger, older VH-3D Sea King helicopters and the newer, smaller VH-60N “WhiteHawk.”
A symbol of American power, the current presidential helicopters have systems that can counter missiles and deliver encrypted messages, but officials said their replacement was long overdue.