Chair Force Engineer

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hail CSAR!

The Air Force has finally picked its new combat search and rescue helicopter (the CSAR-X program,) and the future looks a lot like the past. A specialized version of the CH-47 Chinook will conduct the search-and-rescue missions of the 21st century.

From the outset, and from my outsider's perspective, I liked the Sikorsky S-92, if for no other reason than the fact that I thought Sikorsky got a raw deal during the competition for Marine One. Lockheed Martin's "US 101" won the contract for Marine One instead due to factors like cabin size, when the S-92 had superior range, speed, and maintainability (due to only two engines instead of three.)

Lockheed Martin had been favored for CSAR-X, as the US-101's three engines give additional redundancy which is sorely needed on combat missions, but isn't needed for the presidential helicopter mission. Of course, US-101 is a fancy moniker designed to hide the fact that the helicopter (based on the EH 101) is primarily built in England and Italy, although final assembly and integration will take place at the Bell plant in Amarillo TX and the LockMart plant in New York state.

In the end, I suspect that Boeing emerged victorious because of their design's speed (the big CH-47 also happens to be the fastest helicopter in service,) its large cabin, its ability to lift heavy payloads (including the miniguns and four-wheelers that are used during search-and-rescue,) its established logistics train, and its proven history of performance in combat.