The first of a series of new helicopters for the U.S. president has made its maiden flight. Designated VH-71, the new helicopter completed a successful 40-minute flight on 3 July 2007. Developed by the European firm AugustaWestland, the VH-71 is produced by a partnership of that firm with Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter Textron.
When the President has embarked, a helicopter has the designation "Marine One." But no specific VH-71 will be designated as such.
The Marine Corps plans to procure three test aircraft and 23 operational aircraft of this type, based on the now-operational EH.101 helicopter. That aircraft is now flown by the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Italian Navy, and Canadian Forces as well as by agencies of several other governments. More than 130 EH.101s are in operational service.
Initial operational capability of the VH-71 with the Marine Corps is scheduled for late 2009. The helicopters will be flown by Marine Helicopter Squadron (HMX) 1, based at Quantico, Virginia, with a detachment at the naval station in Anacostia, Washington, D.C. The VH-71 will replace the long-serving VH-3D Sea King, now operated by HMX-1 to transport the President and other senior government executives.
HMX-1 also flies the UH-60A/N helicopters in support of the White House, although the President does not normally fly in those aircraft. The squadron is one of the largest in the U.S. armed forces with about 50 Marine officers and 600 enlisted men, plus a Navy detachment of about four officers and 15 enlisted men. The squadron, which provides test and evaluation services for the Marine Corps, also flies CH-46E Sea Knight and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters.
During the 40-minute flight on 3 July, AgustaWestland test pilots performed general aircraft handling checks, tested flight characteristics at varying speeds up to 135 knots, and evaluated the on-board avionics systems.