Pentagon test office says new presidential helicopter not yet 'operationally suitable' for emergencies

The Pentagon’s test office says that the new presidential helicopter is not yet “operationally suitable” for emergencies, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

According to an unpublished report from the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, dated Sept. 28 and obtained by Bloomberg, the aircraft is “operationally effective” for routine missions such as a trip to Camp David or taking the president to Joint Base Andrews, but not yet for “contingency operational flights.”

The “Mission Communication System (MCS) often delayed critical communications at the beginning of contingency missions and did not adequately support timely, continuous and secure communications,” reads the report, according to Bloomberg.

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The VH-92 helicopter program was meant to replace helicopters currently used by the president, vice president and other top officials. The Navy selected Sikorsky Aircraft, a Lockheed Martin company, to replace the aging VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters currently in use.

The Navy ordered five additional aircraft from Sikorsky in early February, bringing a total number to 23. Deliveries were expected to begin this year.

In a statement to The Hill, Sirkorsky spokesperson John Dorrian said the company “continue[s] to build VH-92A presidential aircraft and are pleased our customer awarded us a contract for the final five production helicopters earlier this year.”

“Sikorsky continues to work closely with our customer to ensure the aircraft meets all operational requirement,” Dorrian said. 

Lockheed Martin referred additional questions to the Naval Air Systems Command, which didn’t immediately return a request for comment from The Hill.

The 28-page report was based on the helicopter’s performance during three months of testing, through April 15.

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Jessica Maxwell, a spokesperson for the Pentagon’s testing office, told The Hill that the report was meant to evaluate if the helicopter is “effective and suitable to perform administrative transport of the president, vice president, members of the cabinet, heads of state and other parties.”

The report was also meant to evaluate whether the plane could perform contingency operations in support of the president and other personnel, Maxwell said.

Overall, the report found that the helicopter is “failing to meet the reliability, availability or maintainability threshold requirements,” Bloomberg reported.

“Engine exhaust and fluid discharge cause landing zone damage limitations, limiting the number of available landing zones,” the report stated, adding that the Marines should “continue to reduce effects of engine exhaust and fluid discharges.”

Maj. Jorge Hernandez, a spokesman for the Marine aviation deputy commandant, told Bloomberg that the report “did not raise any issues” that the office or Marine commanders were “unaware of, or the issues were previously corrected.”

The Hill has reached out to the White House for further comment.

Updated at 3:59 p.m.