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VH-71 Kestrel
Five-bladed gray helicopter landing in the middle of bush land
AW101 undergoing VH-71 testing near the Lockheed facility in Owego, New York
Role Executive transport helicopter
Manufacturer Lockheed Martin
Bell Helicopter (assembly)
First flight 3 July 2007
Status Canceled
Primary user United States Marine Corps
Number built 9 (VH-71A)
Unit cost
US$400 million (average procurement cost)[1]
Developed from AgustaWestland AW101

The Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel is a variant of the AgustaWestland AW101 (formerly EH101), that was being developed to replace the United States Marine Corps' Marine One U.S. Presidential transport fleet. It was being produced by the Lockheed Martin–led "US101 Team" of Lockheed Martin Systems Integration – Owego (LMSI), AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter.

In February 2009, President Barack Obama asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about placing the project on hold or canceling it because of its high cost: over $13 billion for the planned 28 helicopters. In June 2009, the U.S. Navy terminated the contract and said remaining funds would be spent to upgrade to the existing Presidential fleet of VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters. The VH-71 helicopters were then sold to Canada for use as spare parts for its fleet of AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue helicopters.


US101 and VXX competition

The AgustaWestland AW101, originally designated as EH101, was originally developed and produced by EH Industries, a joint venture between the British Westland Helicopters and Italian Agusta companies; Westland merged with Agusta in 2001.[2] On 23 July 2002, Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland signed a 10-year agreement to jointly market, produce and support a medium-lift helicopter, an AW101 derivative designated US101, in the United States. The companies envisaged the aircraft performing three major roles; U.S. Air Force combat search and rescue, U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue, and U.S. Marine Corps executive transport.[3]

On 15 May 2003, AgustaWestland signed an agreement with Bell Helicopter to undertake final assembly of the US101 in the U.S.[4] Under the pact, AgustaWestland would produce the main rotor blades and main fuselage sections at its Yeovil, UK, facility. The company would produce other components, including the gearbox, at its Cascina Costa, Italy facility. This represents a work share of 36%. The remaining 64% work share is split between Lockheed Martin (31%) and Bell Helicopter (27%) and others (6%).[5]

On 18 December 2003, the United States Department of Defense issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to supply 23 helicopters to replace the 11 VH-3Ds and 8 VH-60Ns of the Marine Corps' HMX-1 squadron, which performs the role of Presidential helicopter transportation. This requirement was given the designation of VXX.[6][7] Two companies, AgustaWestland and Sikorsky Aircraft responded to the VXX request for proposals (RFP).[8]

Sikorsky had proposed the VH-92, a variant of the H-92 Superhawk, in partnership with FlightSafety International, L-3 Communications, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins, Vought Aircraft Industries, and GE-Aviation. On 28 January 2005, the Department of Defense announced that it had selected the US101 as the winner.[8] It has been speculated that the US101's three engines had been a decisive factor over the rivaling twin-engined VH-92.[9] The US101 team was awarded a US$1.7 billion contract for the System Development and Demonstration phase.[8] In July 2005, the US101 was given the designation VH-71 Kestrel.[10]

Program problems and delays

Delays and engineering issues plagued the VH-71's development.[11] By 2007, the estimated cost of developing and modifying the aircraft had risen by 40% to $2.4 billion and had passed the $4.2 billion expected for the production of the fleet.[12] In March 2008, the program cost had risen and was projected to cost a total $11.2 billion,[13] or about $400 million per helicopter.[1]

During dialogue over the CSAR-X (in which the EH101 was LMSI's offering), the Air Force Source Selection Authority (SSA) had stated the VH-71's program's performance had been "unsatisfactory". In March 2007, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, upholding Sikorsky and Lockheed's protests against Boeing's HH-47, mentioned "LMSI had received a little confidence rating for past performance due to unsatisfactory performance under its current contract for the VH-71 Presidential helicopter, which was evaluated as the most highly relevant to this procurement." The SSA stated that LMSI had "show[n] that it could not reliably meet important schedule requirements and had difficulty in systems engineering flow-downs to their subcontractors."[14] Lockheed responded that government insistence on extensive modifications, not anticipated in the RFP, as the source of the cost overruns.[15] A later GAO report in 2011 concluded that development of the VH-71 was not allowed flexibility or trade-offs considered by the customer.[16]

In December 2007, DoD officials met with the White House Military Office to discuss the program's future; the Pentagon had apparently wanted to terminate the VH-71 due to setbacks, budget issues, and design problems. The White House overruled a decision to cancel; the program was effectively placed on hold while options were considered.[17] In July 2008, the VH-71A (also called Increment 1) was to reach operating capability in 2010. The second phase of the development, VH-71B (Increment 2) was expected to start entering service in 2017.[18]

In October 2008, while commenting on defense programs likely to be cut following the change in government, John Young, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, stated that the VH-71 "is very high on that list".[19] The rising cost of VH-71 program contrasted poorly with President Barack Obama's stance on curbing government spending; during a White House gathering in February 2009 President Obama commented that the procurement process had "gone amok and we are going to have to fix it." He additionally stated that "The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me."[20][21] In March 2009 the projected total cost for the planned 28 VH-71s was over $13 billion.[22] On 6 April 2009 the proposed Defense budget announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates had not included funding for the VH-71.[23] On 1 June 2009, the U.S. Navy announced that the contract was officially canceled, remaining funds were to be reinvested in upgrades to the existing fleet of VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters.[24]

The aircraft's cancellation provoked commentators to speak out about its impact on future acquisition contracts with European businesses. The failure by the U.S. Department of Defense acquisition process as demonstrated by the VH-71 may scare away potential partners.[25] Around March 2009, a coalition of lawmakers encouraged the Administration to continue a variation of the VH-71 program. A letter issued by several members of Congress urged the President to support a VH-71 program.[26] On 22 July 2009 the House Appropriations Committee approved $485 million to make five VH-71As operational.[27]

Options and restructuring

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimated that shutting down VH-71 production, upgrading the existing fleet, and later implementing a successor program would cost $14–$21 billion. It was reported not only that a new fleet would not be available until 2024 (at which point the existing helicopters would have remained in service while being over 50 years old), but that terminating the existing program would waste more than $3 billion in sunk VH-71 costs.[28] Following the President’s decision to terminate the program a variety of law makers, think tanks and media outlets publicly concluded it would be more cost effective and less time consuming to continue with a variation of the existing VH-71 program.[29]

In 2009, the CRS proposed four options for the current VH-71 program. Option 1 was to continue with VH-71 program with Increment I and II versions; the additional cost was estimated at $10 billion and the entry into service date was 2019. Option 2 was to restructure VH-71 program to provide 23 Increment I aircraft; at an additional cost of $6.4 billion and would be operational by 2012. Option 3 was to restructure VH-71 program to provide 19 Increment I aircraft to replace current fleet; the additional cost for this option was estimated at $5.6 billion and the entry into service by 2012. The last option was to upgrade and extend life of current fleet at a cost of $1.4 billion; however this would not meet the standards required for future presidential helicopters, and would require replacement sooner.[30]

In addition to the cost of a new procurement program, industry officials say that to merely extend the operating life of the current fleet is a risky choice because it is both less secure and costly to maintain.[31] Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) have been outspoken critics of the Pentagon in the matter—Bartlett recently claiming that "they had this conversation outside the partnership and we regret that."[31] Loren Thompson, an analyst for the Lexington Institute, stated "I do not believe that the story of VH-71 is over... Secretary Gates has not made a convincing case for terminating the program, and there is no alternative helicopter that can satisfy range and payload requirements while still landing on the White House lawn."[32]

On 19 December 2009, President Obama signed a joint House and Senate Defense Appropriation Bill for FY 2010, which includes $130 million funding for the Marine One program: $100 million to recoup technologies developed under the VH-71 Kestrel program, and $30 million for the Navy's initial studies on a new VH-XX program.[33] In February 2010, the Navy issued a request for information to the aviation industry.[34] In April 2010, Lockheed Martin announced they would team with Sikorsky in offering the Sikorsky S-92 instead of the VH-71.[35][36] In June 2010, Boeing announced it is considering a U.S.-built licensed version of the AgustaWestland AW101 for the renewed VXX program; Boeing is also considering the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey and Boeing CH-47 Chinook.[37][38]

In June 2011, nine VH-71s were purchased for $164 million by Canada for use as spare parts for its fleet of AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue helicopter, which is also based upon the AW101.[39][40] In 2013, media reports stated Canada is studying if up to four of the VH-71s can be certified for operational use.[41][42]


The first test VH-71A, Test Vehicle #2 (TV-2), made its initial flight on 3 July 2007 at AgustaWestland's facility in Yeovil in the UK. Lockheed Martin also used an EH101, designated TV-1, for initial testing in the United States; these tests included landing on the lawn of the White House.[43]

The first production VH-71A, Pilot Production #1 (PP-1), made its maiden flight on 22 September 2008 from Yeovil. The US Air Force transported the helicopter in a C-17 Globemaster III to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland for further testing.[44] The first production VH-71 joined the test program at NAS Patuxent River, beginning ground testing in early December 2008.[45]


The initial production VH-71 aircraft or Increment one of the presidential helicopter replacement program, designed to meet an urgent need for new helicopters.[18]
Increment two was to provide 23 operational helicopters with increased range, and upgraded navigation and communications systems that fulfill White House requirements to maintain continuity of government and allow the president to carry out the duties of the office.[18]

Other competitions

The US101 is also competing for two USAF contracts, the 141-aircraft Combat Search and Rescue Replacement (CSAR-X) project (originally won by the Boeing HH-47 on 10 November 2006, but now subject to a second procurement competition), and the 70-aircraft Common Vertical Lift Support Program (CVLSP).[46]


United States

Specifications (VH-71)

Specifications with an asterisk (*) next to them are specifically for the VH-71. All others are for EH101/AW101.

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 2003–2004,[47] others[48][49]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4
  • Capacity: 14 seated troops*
  • Length: 64 ft 1 in (19.53 m)
  • Rotor diameter: 61 ft (18.59 m)
  • Height: 21 ft 8¾ in (6.62 m)
  • Disc area: 2,992.5 ft² (271.51 m²)
  • Empty weight: 23,149 lb (10,500 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 34,392 lb (15,600 kg)
  • Powerplant:General Electric CT7-8E turboshafts, 2,520 shp (1,879 kW) (take-off power) each


  • Never exceed speed: 167 knots (192 mph, 309 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 150 knots (167 mph, 278 km/h)
  • Range: 863 mi (1,389 km)
  • Service ceiling: 15,010 ft (4,575 m)
  • Rate of climb: 2,010 ft/min (10.2 m/s)
  • Disc loading: 11.0 lb/ft² (53.8 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 0.174 shp/lb (0.2849 kW/kg)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Baker, Peter. "Cost Nearly Doubles For Marine One Fleet". Washington Post, 17 March 2008.
  2. "Rotorcraft Report: AgustaWestland". Rotor & Wing. Access Intelligence, LLC. 2007-08-01. "The company re-branded its medium-lift EH101 transport the AW101 to reflect...the full integration of its Agusta and Westland..." 
  3. "Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland Announce Long-term Agreement for US101 Helicopter". Lockheed Martin Corp. 23 July 2002.
  4. "AgustaWestland Selects Bell Helicopter as Airframe Manufacturer for US101 Production". Lockheed Martin Corp. 15 May 2003.
  5. "US101 Blows Away Sikorsky in $6.1 Billion VXX Competition", Air Forces Monthly.
  6. "VXX Selection Delayed". Aviation Today, 1 May 2004.
  7. Gertler 2009, p. 2.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Lockheed Martin to Build New Presidential Helicopter". U.S. Department of Defense, January 28, 2005.
  9. "VH-71 Managers Thrift-Minded".
  10. "US101 (VH-71A) All Weather Medium Lift Military Helicopter, USA / Europe". Retrieved: 28 June 2010.
  11. "Development hurdles ahead for future presidential helicopter",
  12. Warwick, Graham. "Presidential Helicopter Costs Soar". Flight International. 22 May 2007.
  13. "Executive Branch Strikes VH-71 Deal". Aerospace Daily and Defense Report, 17 March 2008.
  14. "B-299145.4: Sikorsky Aircraft Company; Lockheed Martin Systems Integration‑Owego‑‑Request for Reconsideration". Government Accountability Office. 29 March 2007.
  15. Warwick, Graham. "Presidential Helicopter Costs Soar", Flight International, 22 May 2007.
  16. Fabey, Michael. "VH-71 Program Following Right Course: GAO", Aviation Week, 4 May 2011.
  17. "VH-71 Presidential Helicopter on Hold". Defense News, 14 December 2007.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 O'Keeffe, Niall. "VH-71A to gain obtain operational capability in 2010". Flight International, 18 July 2008.
  19. "Next Administration to Face Major Decision in First Months on Key Weapons Programs". InsideDefense, 31 October 2008.
  20. "President Publicly Reconsiders Marine One". Aviation Week, 24 February 2009.
  21. "Gibbs: Obama puts new presidential helicopters on hold". Cable News Network, February 24, 2009.
  22. "Defence companies: In the line of fire". The Economist, 19 March 2009.
  23. "Finmeccanica says no impact from VH-71 cancellation". Reuters, 7 April 2009.
  24. "US Navy Terminates VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Contract"., 2 June 2009.
  25. "The VH-71 and the Industrial Base". Center for Strategic and International Studies. Accessed: 25 April 2011.
  26. "Letter from Congress of the United States to President Obama", Congress of the United States, 16 March 2009.
  27. "F-22 Gets Through House Committee, May Face Obstacle On Floor". Defense News, 22 July 2009.
  28. Gertler 2009, pp. 12, 14-15.
  29. Chavanne, Bettina H. "Objections to VH-71 Cancellation Grow Louder". Aviation Week's DTI, 5 June 2009.
  30. Gertler 2009, pp 18-21.
  31. 31.0 31.1 "Objections to VH-71 Cancellation Grow Louder". Aviation Week, 5 June 2009.
  32. Kington, Tom. "Finmeccanica Regroups in U.S." Defense News, 25 May 2009.
  33. "USA: Obama Approves Defense Budget 2010". Avio News, 22 December 2009.
  34. Trimble, Stephen. "New VXX competition reveals changes for US presidential helicopter". Flight International, 18 February 2010.
  35. "Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin Announce Teaming Agreement to Compete for the VXX Presidential Helicopter Program". Lockheed Martin.
  36. Cavas, Christopher P. "Former Competitors Join Forces for Helo Program". Defense News, 19 April 2010.
  37. Fein, Geoff. "Bell-Boeing V-22 Latest Entry For Navy's Presidential Helo RFI". Defense Daily, 21 April 2010. subscription article.
  38. "Boeing says AW101 one of its three options for VXX". 6 June 2010. Retrieved 10 June 2010. 
  39. Pugliese, David (16 June 2011). "Obama’s choppers purchased for parts for Cormorants". Victoria Times Colonist. 
  40. "Obama’s choppers purchased for parts for Cormorants". Postmedia News, 26 June 2011.
  43. Warwick, Graham. "First VH-71 presidential helicopter flies"., 5 July 2007.
  44. "First VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Production Aircraft Takes Flight", Lockheed Martin, 22 September 2008.
  45. "First Production VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Joins Test Program". Lockheed Martin & AgustaWestland North America, 2 December 2008.
  46. "US101 (VH-71A) All Weather Medium Lift Military Helicopter", Accessed: 25 April 2010.
  47. Jackson 2003, pp. 233–238.
  48. "Agusta Westland". Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  49. "Costs soar for new Marine One fleet". Retrieved 14 February 2012. 

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