Pax River engineers help keep presidential helos state-of-the-art



Feb 26, 2004

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NAS Patuxent River Public Affairs

NAVAIR PATUXENT RIVER, MD—Being at the center of excellence for research, development, test and evaluation, Pax River engineers and scientists have helped equip the nation’s warfighter with some of the most state-of-the-art weaponry available throughout the station’s 60-year history. Be it the AH-1 Cobra, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, or any aircraft that pushed the envelope here, most have been pretty well known even outside the gates.

But flying “under the radar” is a unique program that keeps the leader of the free world at the ready.

“Our group has supported the presidential helicopters for a little over 20 years,” said Stan Zugay, Presidential Helicopter Program Software Support Activity director. “Our initial involvement started back when our group was at Naval Air Development Center in Warminster [Pa.], back in the early ‘80s.”

The group, which moved to Pax after earlier Base Realignment and Closure Act decisions in the mid ‘90s, originally became involved in supporting the presidential helo program to improve the communication and navigation capabilities of Sikorsky’s VH-3 aircraft, Zugay said. The group was tasked with the development of an integrated cockpit for the VH-3D.

“Back then, control of radios or navigation equipment was typically performed using a dedicated control-head for each avionics component,” Zugay said, “the result being increased pilot workload and increased heads-down time in the cockpit. What we did was provide more robust navigation and communication capability with additional radios and navigation equipment, and we integrated all that avionics equipment to be controlled from one centralized pilot and co-pilot control display unit.”

It was one of the first highly integrated cockpits developed by the Navy, Zugay said. The integrated cockpit was developed by the government and provided to Sikorsky for use in H-3 presidential helicopters. Today, the group supports both the VH-3D and VH-60N helos – the two aircraft in use by HMX-1, the presidential helicopter program squadron based out of Quantico, Va. The government provides Sikorsky a complete technical data package containing detailed electrical wiring information, mission computer software and avionics hardware, and then Sikorsky performs the physical design and installation for the aircraft. When the VH-60N was first introduced to support the presidential mission, a derivative of the VH-3D cockpit was designed by the group and used by the VH-60N.

“Over a period of a couple years, there was another upgrade, a communication navigation survivability upgrade, that merged those two cockpits to be one common cockpit for both the VH-60N and the VH-3D,” Zugay said. “So, today we have a common cockpit, common software and common avionics, between the VH-3D and VH-60N presidential fleet.”

This VH-3/VH-60 common cockpit is unique to the presidential helicopter fleet.

The team at the government-led facility here also develops all of the software for the mission computers to control all the navigation and communication equipment on the aircraft.

“There is [also] a number of unique ‘hardware boxes’ that were developed in-house specifically, and exclusively to support the presidential helicopter mission, and avionics suite we developed,” Zugay said.

Hardware boxes the team developed include a navigation interface unit and a communication interface unit that performs voice- and data-switching between the communication equipment and the aircraft’s internal intercom system, Zugay said.

All this new and improved, upgraded equipment needs testing. Just like any other new system installed on Navy fleet aircraft, the presidential helicopters and the newly installed hardware and software packages must first undergo rigorous developmental testing in a dedicated test-bed aircraft, an NVH-3A, located at Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 21 here. After developmental testing, and once the actual squadron aircraft has been upgraded to include the new avionics equipment at Sikorsky, the helo will come to Pax for final operational testing with HMX-1 pilots.

Another group here performs yet another set of tests to help confirm the products’ reliability. The Independent Validation and Verification group, supporting the Presidential Helicopter Program tests the software that the Software Support Activity is developing against the documented/approved requirements.

“In parallel to what we’re doing there’s the IVV group that monitors and performs independent testing of the product that we develop,” Zugay said. “They make sure we meet the requirements.”

Redundancy in testing is not unique to the presidential helicopter program. But one does expect a high level of scrutiny when dealing with the president of the United States.

The program does have a centralized, integrated-logistics support facility, located here, which is responsible for testing, repairing and certifying all VH-60N and VH-3D avionics before installation in an HMX-1 helicopter. Any failed equipment pulled from the aircraft is sent to the Pax ILS facility where technicians determine the problem and either fix it or send the box to the original equipment manufacturer for repair.

The Presidential Helicopter Program Software Support Activity also developed the test benches the ILS facility uses.

“Once the avionics gear is repaired the ILS team re-tests and certifies the gear as RFI [Ready For Installation]”, Zugay said. “Everyone who touches that box, or touches anything associated with the presidential helicopter missions has special clearances. There’s a lot of security precautions that are put on the system.”

Supporting the VH program often requires rapid response to new Executive Transport mission requirements. The software support activity hears those suggestions/requirements as they filter down. Some are what the president wants, some are what the pilots need. For example radios the president uses on the aircraft have full-duplex links, meaning that all the president has to do is pick up the receiver and talk or listen. An example of half-duplex links are CB radios or typical military radios where a button is pushed to talk and released to listen. Pilot requests include upgraded navigation equipment or other new capabilities.

In addition to being 100 percent dedicated to supporting the legacy aircraft in the presidential helicopter program, Zugay said, the group is also providing technical support by helping the program office find a replacement for the H-3 aircraft which is being phased out. The VXX is a new program which is looking at the Sikorsky S-92 and the AgustaWestland EH-101 to find a replacement.

“One thing that makes our program successful is that we have a good team of qualified, dedicated people,” Zugay said. “We have a good group of contractor support as well a good core group of government people who’ve been working the program for 10 years or more and work well together.”


Photo by Jim Jenkins

Susan Bellis, left, technical manager, and Joe Kuginskie, chief test engineer, both with Titan, test the communication suite upgrade software for the Presidential Helicopter Program.

Photo by Jim Jenkins

President George W. Bush steps out of a VH-3 helicopter at Andrews Air Force Base. The avionics used in presidential helicopters are designed and developed at Pax River.

Patuxent River, MD

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