Lockheed Martin company Sikorsky is preparing two fully assembled HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopters (CRH) for their maiden flights.

Being built for operational use by the US Air Force, the CRH aircraft will undergo their debut flights by mid-2019 at the Sikorsky West Palm Beach site in Florida, US.

Both aircraft were assembled at the company’s facility in Stratford, Connecticut, US, and put through readiness review before they were transported to West Palm Beach late last year.

As part of preparations for the planned flight, the CRH HH-60W flight test team is conducting final installation of instrumentation and ground run testing.

This represents the formal entry of the aircraft into the flight test programme that will lead to Ready Assets Available (RAA). At this stage, the USAF will be able to declare the initial operational capability (IOC).

Sikorsky combat rescue helicopter programme director Greg Hames said: “Having these initial HH-60W helicopters in West Palm Beach for flight test is an exciting time for the Sikorsky team.

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“According to Lockheed Martin, the new tactical mission kit will be used for the flight test of the first of the two HH-60W aircraft.”

“It is the first step toward a low-rate initial production decision later this year, which will allow Sikorsky to provide a constant production flow of aircraft to the warfighter.

“This is the point in the programme when Sikorsky begins providing new aircraft into the warfighters’ hands, initiating transition to the vastly more capable and reliable HH-60W CRH.”

According to Lockheed Martin, the new tactical mission kit will be used for the flight test of the first of the two HH-60W aircraft.

The kit will integrate sensors, radar, and multiple defence systems to provide greater situational awareness to pilots to complete missions, improving aircraft and isolated personnel survivability.

The system configuration test readiness review for the kit was completed last year.

The CRH aircraft is incorporated with a new fuel system that nearly doubles the capacity of the internal tank on a UH-60M Black Hawk. This feature will provide extended range and capability to rescue personnel injured in the battlespace.

Lockheed Martin stated that the CRH is designed to offer a more capable defensive system, vulnerability reduction, cybersecurity, and net-centric requirements when compared to the USAF’s HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters.

Sikorsky plans to build nine aircraft during the engineering manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the programme, comprising four EMD aircraft and five system demonstration test articles.

The USAF intends to procure 112 helicopters to replace its ageing HH-60G helicopters.