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VH-71 "Kestrel"
AW101 undergoing VH-71 testing near the Lockheed facility in Owego, NY
Role Executive transport helicopter
Manufacturer AgustaWestland
Bell Helicopter (assembly)
First flight 3 July 2007
Status Canceled
Primary user United States Marine Corps
Number built 9 (VH-71A)
Unit cost $400 million (average procurement cost)[1]
Developed from AgustaWestland AW101

The VH-71 Kestrel is a variant of the AgustaWestland AW101 (formerly EH101), that was being developed to replace the United States Marine Corps' Marine One Presidential transport fleet. It was being produced by the Lockheed Martin-led "US101 Team" of Lockheed Martin Systems Integration - Owego, AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter.

The projected total cost of the 28 helicopters planned under the program is over $13 billion.[2] In February 2009, President Obama asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about placing the project on hold or canceling it because of its high cost.[3] In June 2009, the US Navy announced that the contract was terminated and funds would be reinvested in upgrades to the existing fleet of VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters.[4]





The EH101 was developed by EH Industries, a joint venture of the British Westland Helicopters and Italian Agusta companies. The aircraft first flew on October 9, 1987, and entered service with the Royal Navy in 2000. Westland merged with Agusta in 2001.


On 23 July 2002 Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland signed a 10-year agreement to jointly market, produce and support a medium-lift helicopter, an EH101 derivative called US101, in the United States.[5] The companies envisaged marketing the aircraft in three roles; US Air Force combat search and rescue, US Coast Guard search and rescue, and US Marine Corps executive transport.

On 15 May 2003 AgustaWestland signed an agreement with Bell Helicopter to undertake final assembly of the US101 in the United States.[6] AgustaWestland will produce the main rotor blades and main fuselage sections at its Yeovil, UK facility. The company will produce other components, including the gearbox, at its Cascina Costa, Italy facility. This represents a work share of 36%. The remaining 64% work share is split between Lockheed Martin (31%) and Bell Helicopter (27%) and others (6%).[7]

VXX competition

The U.S. Department of Defense issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) on 18 December 2003 for the supply of 23 helicopters to replace the 11 VH-3Ds and 8 VH-60Ns of USMC HMX-1 squadron. This requirement was given the designation VXX (V being the prefix for VIP aircraft and XX representing the then unspecified numerical part of the designation).

Both AgustaWestland and Sikorsky responded to the RFP. Sikorsky proposed the VH-92, a variant of the H-92 Superhawk, in partnership with FlightSafety International, L-3 Communications, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins, Vought Aircraft Industries, and GE-Aviation. On 28 January 2005 the Department of Defense announced that it had selected the US101 for the VXX program. The US101 team was awarded a US$1.7 billion contract for the VXX system development and demonstration (SDD) phase.[8] The VH-71 having 3 engines while the VH-92 has 2 may have been a factor in the selection of the VH-71.[9]

The price of the development later rose by 40% to $2.4 billion.[10] The full cost of the project is estimated at $6.1 Bn,[11] although some analysts expect the cost to rise above $7Bn, making this the most expensive helicopter ever, with a unit cost of $270m.[12] As of March 2008 the program cost totaled $11.2Bn, making each helicopter more expensive than the Boeing 747-based VC-25s that serve as Air Force One after adjustment for inflation.[1][13]

Program problems and delays

In addition to rising costs, delays and engineering issues have plagued the VH-71's development.[14] During the ongoing CSAR-X contract controversy (in which the EH101 is LMSI's offering), the Air Force source selection authority has, on several occasions, referred to Lockheed's VH-71 program as having "unsatisfactory performance". These concerns with the VH-71 have caused the Air Force to cast doubts on LMSI's ability to supply helicopters for a potential CSAR program award; in March 2007 the initial GAO report which upheld Sikorsky and Lockheed's contract award protests versus Boeing's HH-47 mentioned "that LMSI had received a little confidence rating for past performance due to unsatisfactory performance under its current contract for the VH-71 Presidential helicopter, which was evaluated as the most highly relevant to this procurement. According to the SSA, LMSI had "show[n under that contract] that it could not reliably meet important schedule requirements and had difficulty in systems engineering flow-downs to their subcontractors."[15] The contractor, in turn, pointed to the government's insistence on extensive modifications, not anticipated at the initial RFP phase, as the source of the cost overruns.[16]

In December 2007, DoD officials met with the White House Military Office to discuss the VH-71 program's future, as the Pentagon apparently wished to terminate the program due to multiple setbacks, budget issues, and design problems. The White House overruled a cancellation decision and the program was essentially put on hold while options were considered.[17] As of July 2008, the VH-71A, also called increment 1, was to reach operating capability in 2010. The second phase of the development, VH-71B or increment 2 was expected to start entering service in 2017.[18]

In October 2008, while commenting on defense programs likely to be cut or even canceled by the incoming Obama administration, John Young (Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) mentioned that the VH-71, being a high-profile project staggering under significant cost growth, “is very high on that list”.[19]

Due to the rising profile of the costly VH-71 program in contrast to his stance on curbing government spending, during a White House gathering US President Barack Obama commented on the procurement process as having "gone amok and we are going to have to fix it." He further went on to state that "The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me."[20][21]

Under the proposed Defense budget announced by Secretary Gates 6 April 2009, the VH-71 funding would no longer be included.[22] On 1 June 2009, the United States Navy announced that the contract, signed in 2004, has officially been canceled and funds will be reinvested in upgrades to the existing fleet of VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters.[4]

With the aircraft's cancellation, commentators and studies worried about its impact on future acquisition contracts with European businesses. Foreign acquisitions provide an avenue for innovation and failures by the Department of Defense acquisition process as demonstrated by the VH-71 only serve to scare away potential partners.[23]

On 22 July 2009 the House Appropriations Committee approved $485 million to make five VH-71As operational. The funding must pass the House and Senate then be approved by the President.[24]

Support for VH-71

Going back as far as March of this year, a broad coalition of lawmakers were encouraging the Administration to continue a variation of the VH-71 program. A letter from members of Congress urged the President to support a VH-71 program: "We are alarmed by the political controversy surrounding the VH-71 and fear it could lead to a decision that jeopardizes the security of the Commander in Chief and wastes valuable taxpayer money." [25]

Shutting down VH-71 production, upgrading the existing fleet, and later implementing a successor program has been estimated to cost $14-$21 billion. In addition, the same body that put forth these estimates, the Congressional Research Service has reported not only that a new fleet would not be available until 2024 (meaning the current aircraft would remain in service until they are more than 50 years old), but that terminating the existing program would waste more than $3 billion in sunk VH-71 costs.[26] Following the President’s decision to terminate the program a wide ranging group of law makers, think tanks and media outlets examined the cost and concluded it would be more cost effective and timely to continue with a variation of the VH-71 program.[27] Citizens Against Government Waste, an advocacy group for fiscal conservatives, has publicly expressed support for the continuation of the VH-71 plan based on the group's belief that "starting over" would burden the taxpayer twice over.[28]

Possible restructuring options

The CRS has proposed four alternatives for the current VH-71 program. These options are as follows:[29]

  • Continue with VH-71 program with Increment I and II versions. The additional cost is estimated at $10B and will enter service in 2019.
  • Restructure VH-71 program to provide 23 Increment I aircraft. Additional cost is $6.4B and will be operational by 2012.
  • Restructure VH-71 program to provide 19 Increment I aircraft (replace current fleet). Additional cost estimated at $5.6B and entry into service by 2012.
  • Upgrade and extend life of current fleet. Additional cost is $1.4B.

The first three are considered viable options. The upgrade option would extend the operating life of existing helicopters, and cost an estimated $4.4 billion overall. This would not meet the standards required for future presidential helicopters, and would ultimately require replacement. This does not include the anticipated cost of implementing program to replace the 19 existing helicopters.

In addition to the cost of a new procurement program, industry officials say that to merely extend the operating life of the current fleet is a risky choice because it is both less secure and costly to maintain.[30] Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) have been outspoken critics of the Pentagon in the matter -- Bartlett recently claiming that "they had this conversation outside the partnership and we regret that." [31] Loren Thompson, an industry analyst for the Lexington Institute criticized the decision as being based in politics, saying Secretary Gates "short-circuited" the "fairly-rigorous" decision-making process.

On 7 October 2009, Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) claimed that he had an internal Defense Department document that showed that the program to replace the VH-71 would cost three times as much,[32] if one includes money already spent on the VH-71, and the life extension and maintenance costs for the existing presidential helicopters.[33] Lockheed Martin Systems Integration - Owego, the prime contractor for the VH-71, is located in Hinchey's congressional district.[34] Hinchey has also supported the completion of five VH-71s.

On December 19, 2009, President Barack Obama signed a joint House and Senate Defense Appropriation Bill for FY 2010, which includes US$130 million funding for the Marine One programme: 100 to recoup technologies developed under the Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland VH-71 Kestrel programme, so that the already invested money will not go totally wasted, and 30 for the Navy's initial studies on a new VH-XX programme.[35]


The first test VH-71A, Test Vehicle #2 (TV-2), made its initial flight on 3 July 2007 at AgustaWestland's facility in Yeovil, UK.[36] Lockheed Martin is already using an EH101, designated TV-1, for initial testing in the USA, including landings on the White House lawn.

The first production VH-71A, Pilot Production #1 (PP-1), made its maiden flight on 22 September 2008 from AgustaWestland's Yeovil, UK plant. The US Air Force transported the helicopter in a C-17 to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland for further testing.[37] The first production VH-71 joined the test program at NAS Patuxent River, beginning ground testing in early December 2008.[38]


The initial production VH-71 aircraft or Increment one of the presidential helicopter replacement program, designed to meet an urgent need for new helicopters.
Increment two will provide 23 operational helicopters with increased range and upgraded navigation and communications systems that fulfill White House requirements to maintain continuity of government and allow the president to carry out the duties of the office. The current presidential helicopters are scheduled to begin phasing out of operational service at a rate of three per year beginning in 2017.

Other competitions

The US101 is also competing for two USAF contracts, the 141-aircraft Combat Search and Rescue Replacement (CSAR-X) project (originally won by the Boeing HH-47 on 10 November 2006, but now subject to a second procurement competition), and the 70-aircraft Common Vertical Lift Support Program (CVLSP).[39]


 United States

Specifications (VH-71)

Specifications with an asterisk (*) next to them are specifically for the VH-71.[40] All others are for EH101/AW101.

Data from MSN article[40]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4
  • Capacity:
    • 14 seated troops* or
    • 45 standing troops or
    • 16 stretchers with medics
  • Length: 74 ft 10 in* (22.81 m)
  • Rotor diameter: 61 ft 0 in (18.59 m)
  • Height: 21 ft 10 in (6.65 m)
  • Disc area: 2,992 ft² (271 m²)
  • Empty weight: 23,150 lb (10,500 kg)
  • Useful load: 12,000 lb (5,443 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 34,320 lb (15,600 kg)
  • Powerplant:General Electric CT7-8E turboshaft, 2,520 shp (1,879 kW) each


See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists


  1. ^ a b "Cost Soars For Marine One Copter Fleet" The Washington Post, 23 March 2008.
  2. ^ Defence companies: In the line of fire, The Economist, March 19, 2009
  3. ^ Cable News Network, "Gibbs: Obama puts new presidential helicopters on hold", February 24, 2009.
  4. ^ a b US Navy terminates VH-71 presidential helicopter contract
  5. ^ "Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland Announce Long-term Agreement for US101 Helicopter", Lockheed Martin Corp. 23 July 2002.
  6. ^ "AgustaWestland Selects Bell Helicopter as Airframe Manufacturer for US101 Production"
  7. ^ "US101 Blows Away Sikorsky in $6.1 Billion VXX Competition", Air Forces Monthly
  8. ^ "Lockheed Martin to Build New Presidential Helicopter" U.S. Department of Defense January 28, 2005
  9. ^ "VH-71 Managers Thrift-Minded".
  10. ^ "Presidential helicopter costs soar", 22 May 2007.
  11. ^ TY: Feature creep and the new Marine One (VH-71)
  12. ^ VH-71 “Kestrel” / VXX Vertical Lift Aircraft,
  13. ^ "Executive Branch Strikes VH-71 Deal". Aerospace Daily and Defense Report, 17 March 2008.
  14. ^ "Development hurdles ahead for future presidential helicopter",
  15. ^ "B-299145.4, Sikorsky Aircraft Company; Lockheed Martin Systems, March 29, 2007", GAO.
  16. ^ Warwick, Graham. "Presidential helicopter costs soar", Flight International, 22 May 2007.
  17. ^ "VH-71 Presidential Helicopter on Hold",, December 14, 2007
  18. ^ O'Keeffe, Niall. "VH-71A to gain obtain operational capability in 2010", Flight International, 18 July 2008.
  19. ^ "Next Administration to Face Major Decision in First Months on Key Weapons Programs", InsideDefense, Oct 31, 2008.
  20. ^ "President Publicly Reconsiders Marine One". Aviation Week, Feb 24, 2009.
  21. ^ "Obama says U.S. helicopter project costs gone amok", Yahoo! News, Feb 24, 2009.
  22. ^ [
  23. ^ The VH-71 and the Industrial Base. Center for Strategic and International Studies
  24. ^ "F-22 Gets Through House Committee, May Face Obstacle On Floor". Defense News, 22 July 2009.
  25. ^ "Letter from Congress of the United States to President Obama", Congress of the United States, 16 March 2009.
  26. ^ RS22103, "VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Program: Background and Issues for Congress", pp. 12, 14-15. Congressional Research Service, 9 June 2009.
  27. ^ "Shopping for Presidential Choppers". Dallas Morning News, 24 June 2009.
  28. ^ "Don't Ground the Presidential Helicopter". Citizens Against Government Waste, 20 May 2009.
  29. ^ "VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Program: Background and Issues for Congress". Congressional Research Service, 5 June 2009.
  30. ^ "Objections to VH-71 Cancellation Grow Louder". Aviation Week, 5 June 2009.
  31. ^ "Objections to VH-71 Cancellation Grow Louder". Aviation Week, 5 June 2009.
  32. ^ Hinchey: Internal Pentagon Documents Show Plans for Replacement Presidential Helicopter Project Would Yield Nearly Identical Aircraft as Cancelled VH-71 at Triple the Cost
  33. ^ Rep. Hinchey on VH-71 Helicopter
  34. ^ Panel OKs $128 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan
  35. ^
  36. ^ "First VH-71 presidential helicopter flies"., 5 July 2007.
  37. ^ "First VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Production Aircraft Takes Flight", Lockheed Martin, 22 September 2008.
  38. ^ "First Production VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Joins Test Program". Lockheed Martin & AgustaWestland North America, 2 December 2008.
  39. ^ "CSAR-X",
  40. ^ a b Peter Baker (16 March 2008). "Costs soar for new Marine One fleet". MSNBC. Archived from the original on 2008-08-12. Retrieved 2009-12-18.  

External links


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