A pilot from the 413th Flight Test Squadron at Duke Field at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, flew with Sikorsky contractors earlier this month to test the aircraft's performance, according to a recent Air Force news release.
While Sikorsky, the helicopter's prime manufacturer, had been flight-testing the aircraft for about a month, this was the first time an Air Force pilot was brought on board, the release said. The tests were needed to move forward in the program's production phase.
"The crew performed an instrumentation and telemetry checkout with the control room, gathered basic engine start data, and flew referred gross weight level flight speed sweeps between 40 knots and maximum horizontal speed," according to the release.
"Performance testing requires extremely precise aircraft control, and our test pilot maintained tolerances of plus or minus one knot of airspeed, 20 feet of altitude and less than 100 feet per minute vertical speed, flying by hand," Lt. Col. Wayne Dirkes, 413th Flight Test Squadron operations officer, said in a statement.
Flight test operations will continue: The service said there are six aircraft dedicated to the developmental effort, and that HH-60W operations are scheduled to begin at Duke Field this fall.
Maj. Andrew Fama, a test pilot with the 413th, was the first Air Force pilot to fly the HH-60 "Whiskey" model.
"I'm … very excited to deliver a new aircraft to my rescue brothers and sisters," Fama said in the release.
Current 1980s-era HH-60G models are capable of flying low and have a retractable in-flight refueling probe and internal auxiliary fuel tanks that allow for better range and loiter time during rescue missions.
Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky's HH-60W doubles the internal fuel capacity without using the auxiliary fuel tanks, and also increases the flight hours. The aircraft also has improved avionics, navigation, communications, and an enhanced software network, plus better defensive measures and armored plating, according to the company.
The service plans to purchase 113 of the rotary-wing aircraft.