Chasing Marine One

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When the U.S. president travels, his trip usually begins and ends aboard a helicopter designated as Marine One, a reference to the operator -- the U.S. Marine Corps -- and the importance the service places on the passenger. The equipment is always a product manufactured by U.S.-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.; usually, it’s a VH-3D Sea King operated by HMX-1, Marine Helicopter Squadron One, based at nearby Andrews AFB. The president also rides aboard a Sikorsky VH-60N, an executive version of the company’s workhorse Blackhawk, but its cabin is smaller. Unfortunately, those VH-3Ds are getting a little long in the tooth, the type having first flown in 1959, although current models entered service in 1976. For years, though, the Marine Corps has had in mind a replacement for the VH-3D; the only problem is which airframe to choose. The choices come down to a “presidentialized” version of Sikorsky’s S-92A, an FAA type-certificated helicopter that won the 2002 Collier Trophy; or the EH Industries’ EH101, a triple-engine airframe jointly developed by Westland and Agusta. While the Sikorsky offering is 100% U.S.-made, the EH Industries product is only 80% domestic. Most recently, the U.S. Navy -- the Marine Corps’ parent -- announced this week that it had postponed its anticipated decision on a winner until at least January. The decision comes in the same week that AgustaWestlandBell, a joint venture between AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter Textron, announced moving their corporate headquarters to the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Film at 11; err, in January.