ORLANDO, Fla. — The U.S. Air Force’s new combat rescue helicopter will be known as the HH-60W Jolly Green II, the Air Force secretary announced Thursday.

The name harkens back to the Sikorsky HH-3E used to rescue downed pilots during the Vietnam War, nicknamed the “Jolly Green Giant” due to its distinctive green paint scheme. In 1965 alone, the HH-3E crews rescued 122 troops from the jungles of Vietnam, said Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett.

During a speech at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium here, Barrett also recognized current airmen who perform the combat search and rescue mission.

“Americans owe these courageous airmen the very best equipment. The new combat rescue helicopter, the HH-60W improves range and survivability for safer search and rescue operations everywhere, every time,” she said. “In recognition of these heroes, the Air Force is naming our newest CSAR helicopter the Jolly Green II.”

As rock music played, Barrett unveiled a mockup of the Jolly Green II with new paint scheme.

But in a somewhat unsettling twist, airmen were sighted at the conference carrying around disassembled parts of a full-size plastic Jolly Green Giant statue earlier Thursday morning, likely spoiling the surprise for attentive attendees.

The Air Force plans to buy 113 HH-60Ws over the program of record, and has already procured 10 helicopters in fiscal 2019 and 12 in FY20. In its FY21 budget, the service requested $1.1 billion for 19 HH-60Ws, and production is planned to ramp up to 20 helicopters in FY22 and FY23.

After the announcement, Lockheed Martin Sikorsky, which produces the HH-60W, revealed that the company had been awarded a second low-rate initial production contract for 12 aircraft, valued at more than $500 million.

The HH-60W derivative of the Black Hawk boasts better defensive systems than the HH-60G Pave Hawk currently used for combat rescue missions. The “Whiskey” model also includes a new fuel system that nearly doubles the capacity of the internal tank, as well as improvements to hover performance, avionics and weapons, according to Sikorsky.

The helicopter entered low rate production in September. At that time four test aircraft had clocked in more than 150 hours of flight testing, and five more aircraft were in production at Sikorsky’s facility in Stratford, Conn.

“Currently seven CRH aircraft are in flight, two of which are with the Air Force at Duke Field [at] Eglin Air Force Base in Florida,” Sikorsky said in a Thursday news release. The company is currently conducting major assembly on the first batch of LRIP aircraft.

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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