Sikorsky claims rescue chopper back on schedule

The USAF’s new HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter made its first flight less than six weeks ago, more than seven months late, but manufacturer Sikorsky swears they now have the much-delayed HH-60W back on schedule.

Their deadline: a critical Pentagon review this coming September, a so-called Milestone C, that will determine whether the program can proceed to Low-Rate Initial Production of the first 22 aircraft, of a planned 113. The new choppers are urgently needed to replace aging HH-60G Pave Hawks, used hard in Afghanistan and Iraq, that the Air Force has been trying to replace since the CSAR-X debacle of 2009.

“We’re back on the contract schedule,” Sikorsky program director Greg Hames told reporters visiting the company’s test site here outside of West Palm Beach.

At one point last year, Hames, admitted, the program was falling one week behind with every week that passed. In December, a report from the Pentagon’s independent Director of Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) prompted a come-to-Jesus moment when the program totally overhauled its approach.

Since then, “we have beat every single commitment to the government and we are working with a two-week buffer,” Hames said, proudly pointing to charts of one met deadline after another. “In six months, we have pulled back five.”