A typical dreary afternoon on Monday October 23rd, 2006 here in the Southern Tier. Josh Blay and I were out and about looking for something of interest, something cool to photograph. It’s now late afternoon and we had given up, threading our way east along route 17C from Waverly. We were talking about who knows what, and not really paying much attention to our surroundings. Suddenly my eyes became as big as saucers and with a few expletives we were witnessing a low flying helicopter above the Tri-Cities Airport in Endicott. With our new found excitement Josh and I are now rapidly approaching the airport to get a closer look. A screeching of the brakes, doors flying open, camera gear spilling all over and upon closer inspection we excitedly discover this piece of magnificent machinery is the new Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel “V standing for VIP” (US101 Marine One) Presidential helicopter prototype doing what I’ll call Touch N Go’s…
Hands trembling with excitement as I fumble for a new roll of film, finally my camera’s motor drive begins to hum like the rotors of the VH71, I was elated. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to photograph such an amazing subject despite the dismal weather conditions. Shortly after our excitement had settled Josh and I figured we should promptly leave before someone really takes notice of us and throws us out.
The VH-71 Kestrel program was canceled in 2009 and recently the United States has entered into contract for 23 new Presidential helicopters. The new, initial contract awarded to the American defense contractor Sikorsky, is valued at $1.24 billion. Under the terms of the new contract, the U.S. military will take delivery of two prototype helicopters—based on the Sikorsky S-92 medium helicopter–in 2016. Another 21 fully capable helicopters will follow.
Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel seen here at Tri-Cities Airport in Endicott, NY on October 23rd 2006.
Image © Joe Geronimo, Canon EOS 3, Fuji Press 800
The Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel is a variant of the AgustaWestland AW101 (formerly EH101) built to replace the United States Marine Corps‘ Marine One U.S. Presidential transport fleet. It was developed and built by theLockheed Martin–led “US101 Team” of Lockheed Martin Systems Integration – Owego (LMSI), AgustaWestlandand Bell Helicopter.
In February 2009, President Barack Obama asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about placing the project on hold or canceling it because of its high cost: over $13 billion for the planned 28 helicopters. In June 2009, the U.S. Navy terminated the contract after spending about $4.4 billion and taking delivery of nine VH-71s. The helicopters were then sold to Canada for $164 million for use as spare parts for its fleet of AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorantsearch-and-rescue helicopters.