The US Air Force (USAF) has approved the Sikorsky HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter’s (CRH) transition to low-rate initial production.

The USAF awarded a Milestone C status to the HH-60W helicopter following extensive tests involving four instrumented test aircraft at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, US.

During the performance and flight load survey testing, the aircraft showcased production readiness.

The aircraft underwent more than 70 hours of envelope expansion flights. Data from the testing convinced the USAF to execute a Milestone C decision.

The move sets the stage for Sikorsky to begin production of the aircraft.

Based on the Black Hawk helicopter, Sikorsky HH-60W CRH will be able to conduct critical combat search and rescue and personnel recovery operations for all US military services.

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By GlobalData

Sikorsky programme director Greg Hames said: “This affirmative Milestone C decision validates the modifications to Sikorsky’s most successful Black Hawk helicopter, making it capable of saving downed airmen anytime, anywhere around the world. This establishes the Combat Rescue Helicopter as a production programme.”

Five CRH aircraft are currently under production at Sikorsky’s Stratford facility.

The USAF intends to procure 113 of these helicopters to replace the Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawks.

USAF ISR and Special Operations Forces Program Executive Officer colonel Dale White said: “We have just successfully gained approval to launch the production of a helicopter that will save the lives of our warfighters and our allies all over the world.

“This decision begins the transition to this more capable and reliable helicopter to fulfil the airforce’s mission to leave no one behind. I could not be more proud of our government-contractor team for making this happen.”

Sikorsky stated that the HH-60W CRH provides improved capability and reliability when compared to the HH-60G Pave Hawk.

The CRH is equipped with a new fuel system that is designed to nearly double the internal tank’s capacity to enable extended range.

The aircraft also features improvements in terms of hover performance, avionics, electrical capacity, cooling, weapons, cybersecurity and net-centric capabilities.