New Presidential Helicopter Flies

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The next president will have an "Oval Office In The Sky" aboard what is described as the most technologically advanced helicopter ever built. According to a news release, the AgustaWestland/Lockheed Martin VH-71 flew for the first time on July 3 and test pilots reported the aircraft performed well on the 40-minute flight at Italy-based AgustaWestlandís facilities in Yeovil, England. The flight occurred 30 months after the controversial contract was awarded (this will be the first Marine One that isnít designed and built by a U.S. firm) and the company says itís on track for on-time delivery of the first aircraft in late 2009. Although itís a European design, the presidential helicopters are being developed with Lockheed Martin and will be assembled by Bell Helicopter in Texas. The VH-71s will have significantly better performance than the existing VH-3D and VH-60N aircraft currently in use. The VH-71 is based on AgustaWestlandís EH-101 tri-engine military and search and rescue helicopter. The program is being implemented in two stages, and in the second phase the helicopters will be outfitted with the gear needed to allow the president to exert command and control functions from the air. By 2014, the VH-71s will replace all 19 helicopters currently in the presidential fleet. Why so many? Marine One is usually accompanied by four other identical helicopters that change formation with the one occupied by the president to lessen the chance of his being attacked.