Lockheed Martin Company Sikorsky has completed the maiden flight of the HH-60W combat rescue helicopter being developed for the US Air Force (USAF).

The first flight was performed at Sikorsky’s site in West Palm Beach, Florida, US, and marks a significant step towards making the helicopter a part of the USAF’s fleet.

During the test flight, the helicopter flew for just over an hour and performed hover control checks, low-speed flight, and a pass of the airfield.

Based on UH-60M Black Hawk, the all-new HH-60W aircraft is customised to meet the USAF’s critical search and rescue mission needs.

The helicopter is designed to offer improved reliability, survivability, and range.

Sikorsky army and airforce systems vice-president Dana Fiatarone said: “This achievement is yet another vital step toward a low rate initial production decision and getting this much-needed aircraft and its advanced capabilities to the warfighter.

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“We are very pleased with the results of today’s flight and look forward to a productive and informative flight test programme.”

The company noted that a Milestone C production is on track according to the schedule for September this year.

In addition, Sikorsky plans to undertake a flight test of a second HH-60W helicopter next week. The third and fourth aircraft are expected to begin flight tests this summer.

“A new fuel system has been incorporated into the helicopter that nearly doubles the capacity of the UH-60M Black Hawk’s internal tank.”

Sikorsky combat rescue helicopter programme director Greg Hames said: “The HH-60W’s first flight is the culmination of significant development and design advances. We are excited to now move forward to begin full aircraft system qualification via the flight test programme.

“Together with the airforce, our team is motivated and committed to advancing this programme and delivering this superior aircraft to our airmen and women.”

According to the firm, the HH-60W aircraft represents a significant improvement to the USAF’s existing HH-60G Pave Hawk. The service has plans to purchase 113 helicopters in total.

A new fuel system has been incorporated into the helicopter that nearly doubles the capacity of the UH-60M Black Hawk’s internal tank.

It will provide an extended range and greater capability to rescue personnel injured in the battlespace.