An Italian Ride For The President?
He drives a Chevy, is a baseball fanatic, loves his mom and we'll go out on a limb and guess he likes apple pie, too. So, could George W. Bush accept an Italian helicopter as his official ride? Well, the Italians, with some help from the British, are hoping so. Agusta Westland (in a bid led by Lockheed Martin) is U.S.-based Sikorsky's main competition to replace the presidential fleet of heli's, which now counts 11 Sea Kings and eight Sea Hawks ... all about 30 years old. In fact, the lobbying has become so intense and so obviously parochial that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has put off a decision between the European US101 and the American S-92 until after the November election. The US101 is a variant of a popular military and search-and-rescue helicopter now used by the British, Italian and Canadian armed forces. Both Italy and Britain are hoping to cash in on their unflagging support for the war in Iraq and British Prime Minister Tony Blair has already directly lobbied Bush on the deal. Sikorsky is proposing the S-92, built by "skilled, trustworthy American hands." Sikorsky spokesman Jeffery Pino told The New York Times that it just wouldn't seem right to have the president flying in a foreign-made helicopter (even though most of the US101 would be built in New York). "You want the president in an American-made chopper." Agusta Westland spokesman Stephen Moss told the Times Americans should want their president in the best chopper for the best price. "The real issue is whether you want competition on a level playing field or a win based on jingoist anti-foreign sentiment in an election year," he said.