July 18 (UPI) -- For the first time, an Air Force pilot tested an HH-60W combat rescue helicopter, which is a modified version of the Army's UH-60M Black Hawk.
Maj. Andrew Fama, a test pilot with the 413th Flight Test Squadron based in Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., flew the aircraft last Thursday at Sikorsky Aircraft's Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. Sikorsky is a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin.
"I'm honored to be the first Air Force pilot to fly the 'Whiskey' and very excited to deliver a new aircraft to my rescue brothers and sisters," Fama said in an Air Force news release Wednesday.
Sikorsky pilots have been flying the aircraft for about a month.
The Air Force is contracted to purchase 113 HH-60W aircraft to replace its aging fleet of HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, which perform missions locating and rescuing downed pilots in hostile territory.
"Building on the state-of-the-art UH-60M Black Hawk, the HH-60W 'Whiskey' adds capability advancements to better support the full range of combat rescue and other special missions," Lockheed said on its website. "Designed to meet long-range and high threat requirements for the U.S. Air Force, the Whiskey will expand upon the legendary Black Hawk's versatility."
The internal fuel capacity has been doubled without the use of "space hungry auxiliary fuel tanks," according to Lockheed. In addition, it provides a robust weapons suite, and integrates defensive systems and sensors "to provide an unprecedented combination of range and survivability."
"Our entire team has been focused on bringing together a lot of moving parts to get here today," Lt. Col. Wayne Dirkes, 413th FLTS operations officer, said. "We are really excited to be a part of recapitalizing a vital component of our warfighting strategy,"
Test flight collected level flight performance data necessary for the program to move into production and deployment phase.
The aircraft flew gross weight level flight speed sweeps between 40 knots and maximum horizontal speed. Tests include an instrumentation and telemetry checkout with the control room and basic engine start data.
The Air Force copter has a 195-nautical mile combat radius
The Army's UH-60M, with a crew of four and 9,000 pounds of hauling capacity, can fly 4,000 feet in altitude.
"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," Dirkes said.
Six aircraft are involved in the developmental test program.
This fall, 413th's HH-60W operations are scheduled to begin at Eglin AFB Auxiliary Field #3, also known as Duke Field in western Florida.
In June, Sikorsky was awarded a $91.2 million contract for engineering and support work on all versions of the U.S. Army's H-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
Sikorsky has produced more than 4,000 UH-60 for U.S. Department of Defense's armed services branches, including 2,135 for the U.S. Army. The aircraft have also been supplied to allies, though with the S-70 designation, according to Lockheed Martin.
The first UH-60A Black Hawk was accepted by the Army in 1978, and entered service in 1979. Future variations include the UH-60L and UH-60M, the latter of which Lockheed Martin calls the "best-in-class multi-mission performer."