The Lockheed VH-71 Kestrel was an attempt by the United States military to replace its aging line of SH-3 "Sea King" helicopters serving in the USMC's "Marine One" role (the transport used to carry the President of the United States and his immediate staff). The venture became riddled with delays and cost overruns to the point that, in 2009, President Obama suggested postponing the project or cancelling it altogether. After some $4.4 billion was already spent on the project, the program was ended in June of 2009 and the United States Navy (USN) took delivery of the nine completed specimens.
The Kestrel was based on the framework of the Italian-British AgustaWestland EH101/AW101 "Merlin", a three-engined medium-lift transport / utility helicopter type. This aircraft first flew in October of 1987 and was introduced for service in 1999. The helicopter was eventually taken into service with the British Royal Navy as well as the Italian Navy and Royal Danish Air Force. Many more operators have been added since.
it appeared that the in-service, versatile platform would lend itself well to conversion for the VIP passenger role at the federal level so Lockheed Martin headed an international joint-venture to secure the EH101/AW101 as the follow-up to the SH-3 in the Marine One role. The teaming also involved the helicopter's maker, AgustaWestland of Italy, as well as Bell Helicopter (United States). The Lockheed product was then known as the "US101".
An official Request for Proposal (RFP) went out in December of 2003 and looked to cover some twenty-three helicopters for the Marine One program (as well as serve as successor to the U.S. government VH-60N fleet). The program designated the aircraft as "VXX" for the interim and both AgustaWestland and Sikorsky met the RFP. After reviewing the bids, the selection of US101 was made in January of 2005. The helicopter was then designated as the VH-71 "Kestrel".
However, the Kestrel program was ripe with issues from the get-go. It was oft-delayed and there proved many developmental issues in bringing the helicopter program to fruition. Couple this to rising program costs and there stood little gain in continued focus and investment on the part of the U.S. government to see the Kestrel program through. There were many discussions on the helicopter's future had into the latter half of the decade and all this culminated with its cancellation in 2009 - despite the work that had been completed to date and the costs entailed in cancelling the program in full.
The existing VH-71 helicopter fleet, numbering nine airframes, was sold off to Canada and these were to be used as spares for the RCAF CH-149 "Cormorant" SAR helicopter fleet (also based on the Merlin series).
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
General transport functionality to move supplies/cargo or personnel (including wounded and VIP) over range.
Used in roles serving the commercial aviation market, ferrying both passengers and goods over range.
Used in the Very-Important-Person (VIP) passenger transport role, typically with above-average amenities and luxuries as standard.
64.1 ft (19.55 m)
61.0 ft (18.60 m)
21.7 ft (6.62 m)
23,149 lb (10,500 kg)
34,392 lb (15,600 kg)
+11,244 lb (+5,100 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel production variant)
3 x General Electric CT7-8E turboshaft engines developing 2,520 horsepower each driving a five-bladed main rotor and four-bladed tail rotor.
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