US President’s New Helicopter Hits Setback: It’s Unreliable In Crisis

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Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC.

US President Joe Biden’s maiden flight aboard new Presidential helicopter built by Lockheed Martin Corp delayed after Pentagon test unit report warned it was not yet “operationally fit” or sufficiently reliable, especially in an emergency.

The Biden administration has not yet determined whether the helicopter can be put into service as it is still assessing its safety, according to a US official who asked not to be identified about internal deliberations. The White House military office will determine the schedule.

The helicopter “does not meet the threshold reliability, availability or maintainability requirements” set for it, according to an internal summary prepared for senior defense officials by the Pentagon test office and obtained by Bloomberg News .

The VH-92 helicopter program is a $ 5 billion, 23 aircraft program to replace the current aging fleet used by the President and other senior officials. The previously unpublished test report, dated September 28, said the aircraft is “operationally efficient” for routine “administrative” missions such as a run at Camp David or the President’s delivery to Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington for a planned trip on Air Force One.

But it was not effective “for the emergency operation mission”, a reference to emergency flights. The “Mission Communication System (MCS) often delayed critical communications at the start of emergency missions and did not adequately support timely, continuous and secure communications,” the test office found.

The Naval Air Systems Command program office stamped the 28-page test report “Controlled Unclassified Information,” a new label increasingly used by military services to restrict public release of cost and performance data from the program.

“The VH-92 report has been marked CUI to protect critical technical information and operational safety,” Navy spokesman Captain Clay Doss said in a statement. “An unclassified / publishable synopsis will be included” in the Pentagon Testing Bureau’s annual report, he said. This report is usually released in January.

Presidential symbol

With its iconic “white top” paint job, Marine One – its designation when the president is on board – is almost as much a symbol of the US presidency as the Air Force One airliner. Crowds of reporters and White House guests regularly gather to watch the president leave and return to the helicopter. The current fleet entered service in 1975, with a new model added in 1989. Previous plans for a Lockheed replacement were canceled in 2009 after this program was plagued by soaring costs and delays.

The Marines, in coordination with the White House military office, had planned to declare in July that the helicopter had “initial operational capability.” It was already a delay of June 2020 and then January. This designation would have been followed by the military office assigning the missions. Neither has happened.

The Pentagon’s director of operational testing and evaluation evaluated the helicopter’s performance during three months of testing ending April 15. Marine Corps Major General Gregory Masiello, the program manager, told a Navy audience on August 3 that “the squadron and the program are ready today. “

The Marines Test Squadron conducted 18 sorties over 131 flight hours with scenarios inside and outside the National Capital Region, including Camp David, to assess the operational effectiveness of base and maintenance capability of the helicopter. Jessica Maxwell, spokesperson for the office of tests, said in an email that the flight tests were designed to answer the question: is it “efficient and suitable for carrying out the transport of the president, vice president, cabinet members and heads of state? “

The testing office declined to answer any questions about the results because they were considered “controlled unclassified information,” Maxwell said.

The mission communication system “instability, cabin interior faults, frequent maintenance inspections and rear stair door components contributed to the low availability of the aircraft,” said concluded the trial office. The lack of “squadron-level communications system diagnostic capability” and the time required to access “communications system components” hampered the squadron’s ability to maintain the aircraft, “a- he declared.

Burnt lawn

Additionally, the VH-92 program office still has not addressed the issue of the new helicopter that could burn grass in the landing zone on the South Lawn of the White House. The rotating rotors and engine exhaust cause burns in limited circumstances that first occurred in September 2018.

“Engine exhaust and fluid discharge results in landing zone damage limitations, limiting the number of available landing zones,” according to the summary. The Marines are expected to “continue to reduce the effects of exhaust fumes and fluid discharges.”

Megan Wasel, spokesperson for the program office, said she “continues to work closely” with the Marine Corps and the White House military office “to make a smooth transition from the helicopter to service. current “to VH-92. Lockheed, based in Bethesda, Md., Received the test report, Wasel said.

“The report did not raise any issues” that the program office and the Marine Corps “were not aware of, or the issues were corrected before,” said Major Jorge Hernandez, spokesman for the deputy commander. Aviation of the Marines. The office “cannot speculate on when” the White House will give its approval to begin missions, he said.

John Dorrian, spokesperson for Lockheed’s Sikorsky Aerospace Division, said “we are delighted that our client awarded us a contract for the last five production helicopters” in February. He said: “Sikorsky continues to work closely with our customer to ensure that the aircraft meets all operational requirements.

The Navy placed the last batch of a total of 23 production and test aircraft under contract on February 5, three days before operational testing began. The service has already spent over $ 1.5 billion on the program.

(Except for the title, this story was not edited by DAILYNEWSCATCH staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)

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