A variant of the venerable EH101 (EuroHelicopter 101) medium-lift helicopter, dubbed the US101, has been chosen by the US Navy for it’s next generation presidential transport, traditionally referred to as Marine Corps One. The EH101 was designed in the 1980’s by the British/Italian consortium AgustaWestland and is currently in service with several NATO nations.
Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter teamed with AgustaWestland to offer the US101 against a Sikorsky/Boeing team, which was offering a variant of Sikorsky’s S-92, a similar helicopter. The US101 will be partially manufactured in the US by Bell, will incorporate GE engines, a European manufactured drive train and transmission, and British manufactured blades. Various custom avionics will be purchased in the US and integrated by Lockheed Martin.
What a coup for AgustaWestland! You can bet your last Euro-dollar that photos of the EH101 in Marine Corps livery majestically taking flight from the White House lawn are going into their sales brochures tomorrow.
Sikorsky Helicopter had been manufacturing the presidential helicopter fleet since the Eisenhower administration. Losing that prestigious spot had to really, really hurt.
But I can’t say I’m surprised.
The Boeing/Sikorsky team set a new milestone for poor performance last year with the now cancelled RAH-66 Comanche helicopter project. What a fiasco that was. How those companies spent $7 billion and over 20 years ‘in development’ with little more than two prototypes to show for their efforts is beyond me. Apparently, it was finally beyond the understanding of the Army too. It was canceled in 2004. Unbelievable.
According to the Washington Post:
The public campaign for the contract attracted international attention, including personal appeals to President Bush from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Navy said politics did not factor into its decision.
The industry viewed the contract as pivotal in the military helicopter market. The last major competition was in 1991, when a Boeing Co. and Sikorsky team won a contract to build the now-defunct stealth Comanche helicopter.
Industry analysts said Lockheed’s transatlantic team now has the advantage in an Air Force competition, potentially worth up to $10 billion, to build 132 search-and-rescue choppers.
“This decision is all the more unfortunate given the continued atrophy of the United States helicopter industrial base,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “The European helicopter manufacturers already have a commanding position in the global helicopter marketplace.”
Contrary to popular belief, the DOD does take past performance in account when awarding contracts, as well they should. So, both Boeing and Sikorsky take it on the chin again. Those folks better get their act together, or instead of building next generation aircraft for the world market they’ll find themselves building next generation hamburgers. Goodbye fat paychecks, hello food stamps.
On the other hand, the folks at Lockheed Martin are still the undisputed heavyweight champs in advanced aviation technology, even if they are a bunch of Skunks. Let’s hope they keep it up. It’d be nice to have at least one US aerospace company that can hold their own against the Europeans.