The Air Force is one step closer to getting the new Pave Hawk. The first HH-60W has started the process of final assembly two months ahead of schedule and will be set to make its first flight by the end of this year.
"Final assembly of this first HH-60W helicopter marks a significant milestone for Sikorsky, our workforce, and the U.S. Air Force," Sikorsky Air Force Programs director Tim Healy said in a Lockheed release. "We are on track to deliver this significant capability enhancement ahead of schedule."
The HH-60W is slated to replace the 99 HH-60G Pave Hawks currently in service. The HH-60W features a number of improvements, including an internal fuel capacity of 660 gallons, just shy of twice as much as the amount of fuel carried in the UH-60M Blackhawk. The HH-60M medevac variant of the UH-60M is credited with a range of 275 nautical miles, which can be extended by attaching a 400-gallon, external tank of gas.
The HH-60W will also feature an integration of radar, defense systems, and other sensors to give the four-man crew more information to complete the mission of supporting the Air Force's pararescue personnel. Healy said that this will make the HH-60W "the most thoroughly networked and connected vertical lift platform ever produced" and that it'll bring the Air Force "unrivaled capability in high-threat environments."
This first HH-60W and three others will serve as Engineering Manufacturing Development aircraft, and another five will serve as System Demonstration Test Articles. The contract also includes six training devices for aircrew and maintenance personnel. In total, the total Air Force has ordered 112 HH-60Ws. Whether the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps will get in on this chopper and further increase the production run remains unanswered, although a representative for Sikorsky told WATM, "Sikorsky is prepared to support the military's needs should additional services be interested in purchasing the HH-60W, or in exploring whether this aircraft's features could be used on other aircraft."
One thing is for sure: The HH-60W is proof that the H-60 is going to be around for a long time.