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Sat, Nov 04, 2006

USAF To Get Fleet Of CSAR Choppers

Pentagon Approves Proposal For New Aircraft

The Pentagon approved USAF plans to purchase a fleet of up to 141 combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopters.  The winner of the contract -- reportedly valued at some $10 billion -- is to be announced following next week's elections.

Reuters reports the decision must be finalized by the Pentagon's Defense Acquisition board. The board met Tuesday to discuss the plan which includes 141 new helicopters to replace the USAF's aging fleet of HH-60G Pave Hawks.

CSAR ranks near the top of the military's most demanding aviation missions. The aircraft must carry specialized communication, navigation and sensor equipment to enable its highly-trained crew to find and communicate with downed aircrew and isolated personnel in the most hostile environments.

Most combat aircraft rely on speed and surprise to ingress and egress a dangerous area before an enemy has time to react. Not so with CSAR. Many times the crew must fly to an area of known enemy activity only to hover -- a big fat stationary target -- while rescuees are pulled aboard.

Pilots must be willing to place their aircraft and crew into the most dangerous situations making the design of a CSAR aircraft critical. It must be durable and tough to generate the kind of confidence a crew needs to operate effectively in combat  situations.

CSAR aircraft are also called on to function in the sometimes harsh environments of natural disasters. While not as dangerous as combat, evacuating victims and providing airlift for humanitarian aid can make for challenging missions.

In the running for the contract are Lockheed Martin's US101 -- last year's pick for the new presidential helicopter, Boeing's CH-47 Chinook and the Boeing - Sikorsky team effort VH-92 (photos in order top to bottom) .

Reuters says the US101 is the current front-runner in the competition because its bigger than the VH-92 and has three engines -- a definite plus in combat situations.

FMI: www.dod.gov

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