Air Force Now Planning First Flight of Pave Hawk Replacement for May

Sikorsky’s HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter program is facing delays, according to a recent Pentagon report. Sikorsky artist rendering.

The first flight of the Air Force’s next generation combat rescue helicopter has been pushed back until May as design flaws and other issues have pushed the program out of an accelerated schedule and back toward the original baseline schedule.

The Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, in a report released earlier this month, outlined a series of problems that have come up in testing and development of the HH-60W Pave Hawk II, the planned replacement for the current HH-60G Pave Hawk. Sikorsky, which became a part of Lockheed Martin after the contract was awarded, had originally said it could accelerate progress with a first flight earlier this month and a production decision in the third quarter of 2019.

However, qualification testing of aircraft components “have uncovered technical deficiencies.” For example, at the accelerated schedule, the aircraft would not have an operationally ready tactical mission kit, Link 16 system, digital radar warning receiver, rescue hoist, gun mount, fuel cells, armor, and primary aircrew seating in time for the production decision because these systems are going through design changes.

The Air Force, in a statement to Air Force Magazine, said the program has “significantly advanced” since that DOT&E report was developed, and continues to work with Sikorsky to address program concerns. The Air Force and Sikorsky have agreed to move away from the accelerated timeline and back to the original baseline. This means the first flight, which the company had predicted for this month, is now scheduled for May.

The Air Force and Sikorsky have adjusted the schedule to make sure the specific hardware is available for operational testing in advance of the production decision.

“The program is on-track to meet or exceed the systems requirements and deliver a more capable and survivable rescue platform to the warfighter,” the Air Force statement said.

“Sikorsky’s Combat Rescue Helicopter program is progressing and we are shifting from development to production and test. We now have two aircraft at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. Both aircraft will enter into flight test before mid-year,” said Sikorsky in a statement following the release of the Pentagon tester’s report.