10 December 2011

How the US Coast Guard Ended up with the Dassault Falcon

HU-25 Guardian on short final into KDAL.
When the United States Coast Guard announced in January 1977 that a maritime patrol version of the Dassault Falcon 20 business jet was selected to replace the Grumman HU-16 Albatross and Convair HC-131As in the medium-range search and rescue role, it was the first time in the Coast Guard's 65-year history at that point that it had selected a non-American aircraft for its purposes. The road that led up to this landbreaking decision actually began in 1971 when the Coast Guard issued it's Medium Range Surveillance (MRS) requirement. At the time, the Coast Guard had selected what would have been a specially-developed version of the North American Rockwell Sabreliner 75 that would have been powered by Avco Lycoming ALF-502 turbofan engines- at the time, production standard Sabreliner 75s were powered by General Electric CF700 engines. However, the USCG came under intense criticism for the first incarnation of the MRS contract as it had not held an open competition for other aircraft manufacturers to submit proposals. Yielding to Congressional pressure, the Coast Guard canceled the contract with North American Rockwell and re-opened the MRS requirement as an open competition in 1975. 

The new MRS requirements stipulated that the aircraft be turbofan-powered to allow a high dash speed and high-altitude performance to fly over weather when enroute to a search area. The cabin had to be at least 600 cubic feet to allow all the equipment needed for fly several missions without having to return to base for a changeout of mission-specific equipment. Basic mission parameters were set at a 700 nm loiter at 2,000 feet at a distance of 150 nm from the base. A speed of at least 350 knots was required during the transit to and from search areas and the aircraft had to be capable of an airspeed of no more than 220 knots at 2,000 feet when in the search area. In March 1976, the USCG had received several submissions for consideration: 
  • North American Rockwell submitted it's previous proposed Sabreliner 75 development;
  • Gulfstream submitted two versions of the GII business jet, one powered by Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans and one powered by GE CF34 turbofans;
  • A highly unconventional submission came from ICX Aviation which had plans to license build the Yakovlev Yak-40 jetliner in Youngstown, Ohio. Their proposal was based on a Yak-40 powered by three Garrett AiResearch TFE731 turbofans;
  • Lockheed proposed a version of the Jetstar powered by two GE CF34 engines;
  • VFW-Fokker submitted two versions of the VFW 614 jetliner, one with Bendix cockpit avionics and one with Collins cockpit avionics- both versions would have used GE CF34 engines;
  • And finally Dassault through the Falcon Jet Corporation (a joint venture between Dassault and Pan Am to market the Falcon 20 in the United States) submitted a version powered by Garrett ATF3 engines called the Falcon HX-XX. 
The HU-25s are being replaced and serve at only 3 air stations.
By the fall of 1976, the field of submissions had been narrowed down to just three- Lockheed's CF34-powered Jetstar, VFW-Fokker's VFW 614 jetliner, and the Falcon HX-XX. Contractor bids were submitted to the Coast Guard on 28 October 1976 based on a 41-aircraft purchase and the Falcon HX-XX came out the cheapest at $4.9 million per aircraft. The VFW 614 was nearly 20% higher in unit price to the Falcon proposal and the Lockheed Jetstar proposal was a surprising 25% higher than the Falcon, coming in as the most expensive option. At the time, the Buy American Act of 1933 was applied to the bids which meant that the VFW-Fokker proposal was increased by an additional 12% in accordance with provisions of the act as it lacked significant American parts. The Falcon HX-XX, however, was exempted from this provision of the Buy American Act as the Falcon Jet Corporation in their proposal would import green airframes from Dassault and finish them out in the United States with American parts to equal 68.1% of the aircraft's value being sourced from US contractors- by the provisions of the law at the time, 50% was considered the minimum to qualify as a domestic product. Knowing the political winds in Washington when it came to a "foreign" aircraft purchase, the Falcon Jet Corporation even showed how over a 10 year service lift the value of American parts in the HX-XX increased to nearly 75%.

As a result, on 5 January 1977, Secretary of Transportation William T. Coleman, Jr, announced that the Falcon HX-XX was the winning submission and the aircraft would be designated the HU-25 Guardian in Coast Guard service. It set a precedent for the Coast Guard and two years later the service selected the Aerospatiale (today American Eurocopter) Dauphin helicopter to become the HH-65 Dolphin in the short-range recovery role. History repeated itself again several years ago when the EADS/CASA CN235MP was selected to replace the HU-25 Guardian in the medium range surveillance role- designated HC-144 Ocean Sentry, the first ones were delivered to the USCG in 2006.

Source: Air International, Volume 20, Number 4. "Uncle Sam's Gallic Guardian", p173-179. Photos: JPSantiago, United States Coast Guard

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