Sikorsky Chairman Dean Borgman was on hand at HMX-1, the United States Marine Corps' Presidential Helicopter Squadron based here, as the familiar green-and-white Presidential helicopter touched down at the end of the ceremonial mission to mark the 100,000th flight hour. Borgman presented a commemorative plaque to the crew for the flight: HMX-1 Commanding Officer Col. John Page, of Irving, Texas; Maj. Matthew McLuckie, of Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Sgt. Anthony Caudillo, of Bakersfield, California.
"We proudly recognize the U.S. Marine Corps' achievement on this great day," said Borgman. "These men and women dedicate themselves to the safe transportation of the world's most important helicopter passenger. Achieving this 100,000th flight hour is testimony to their skill, professionalism, and supreme commitment to duty. All Americans can be proud, knowing that our President is in such good hands whenever he takes to the air in Marine One."
The VH-3D helicopters are one of two models currently in Presidential service. The other model, a BLACK HAWK helicopter variant known as the VH-60N, has already accumulated 40,000 flight hours for HMX-1. All told, Sikorsky's Presidential helicopters have flown an estimated quarter million hours in service to the Commander in Chief, dating back to Dwight Eisenhower's first helicopter flight in a Sikorsky UH-34 in September 1957.
Borgman noted the 100% perfect safety record for Sikorsky and the Marine Corps with the Commander in Chief on board. "Helicopter travel is an essential component of Presidential transportation, but like any form of transportation it comes with certain risks. That the Marine Corps and Sikorsky have successfully managed those risks over a quarter million flight hours and forty-six years of Presidential service is something in which we take profound pride. We know there is no margin for error, even in a sometimes hostile and unpredictable world."
The VH-3D helicopters accommodate up to 14 people, and first entered Presidential service in 1976. The VH-3D succeeded the earlier VH-3A, itself a variant of the Sikorsky S-61. Sikorsky built nearly 700 S-61 helicopters, including the two different Presidential models, between 1960 and 1980.
Over the course of 100,000 flight hours, the VH-3D's have completed Presidential missions in dozens of foreign countries, including most recently President Bush's state visit to the United Kingdom. Scores of current and former world leaders have flown aboard Marine One, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Pope John Paul II, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, French President François Mitterand, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and many others. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat flew VH-3D helicopters to Camp David on their way to negotiating the historic peace accord between their two countries in 1978.
The entire VH-3D fleet is maintained in Presidential condition through an ongoing Special Progressive Aircraft Rework (SPAR) program that completely overhauls each helicopter at predetermined intervals. Much of this work is done at Sikorsky's factory in Stratford, Connecticut, the home base for hundreds of highly skilled, specially trained and security-cleared Presidential helicopter specialists.
Notwithstanding the white glove treatment, the VH-3D fleet is approaching the end of its service life, with all aircraft expected to retire by 2014. Sikorsky is currently competing against a European-led consortium for the next generation Presidential helicopter, and is offering an all-American-made VH-92, a Presidential version of Sikorsky's Collier-Award-winning S-92 helicopter.
"The 100,000 flight hours for the VH-3D's bespeak the talents not only of the Marines who fly and maintain these aircraft, but also the skills of the Sikorsky employees who work on the Presidential program," said Borgman. "This unmatched level of experience with the Presidential mission, coupled with the ultra-safe design of the VH-92, means the President will be in safe hands for another generation should we be selected again for this mission."
The Request for Proposals for the new Presidential helicopter fleet was issued last month. Reponses are due back to the government on February 2, 2004.
Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, based in Stratford, Conn., is a world leader in the design, manufacture and service of advanced helicopters for commercial, industrial and military uses. Sikorsky helicopters occupy a prominent position in the intermediate to heavy range of 5,300 kg. to 33,000 kg. gross weight.
They are flown by all five branches of the United States armed forces, along with military services and commercial operators in more than 40 nations. Sikorsky is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation (NYSE:UTX), of Hartford, Conn., which provides a broad range of high-technology products and support services to the aerospace and building systems industries.