Record helicopter sales. New aircraft launches. Ambitious technology development initiatives. Industry campaigns for enhanced safety and more efficient operations. Alone, any one of these would be a great development. Mix them all together and you've got the recipe for exciting times for the rotorcraft industry and thrilling prospects for aspiring helicopter pilots and the outfits that train them.
On the heels of Robinson Helicopter Co.'s phenomenal sales year (690 aircraft sold), Sikorsky Aircraft at the Paris Air Show last month reported the largest commercial sale in its history.
That order from Offshore Logistics, for 35 firm S-76C++s and 24 options on those aircraft or the new S-76D, included the normal provision for trade-in of older aircraft for the new ones. But just as exciting as the order itself was the statement of Offshore Logistics executives that they may trade in none; they may need all their existing aircraft plus the new ones for offshore support work in the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa and Russia's Caspian Sea.
With the S-76D, AgustaWestland's A109 Grand and Bell's Helicopter's 429, operators should be tickled with the possibility of bringing new equipment into their fleets. Those and other manufacturers already are looking at what the markets will want in terms of new aircraft over the next quarter century and how they can meet those needs.
With that in mind, Sikorsky is at work marrying diverse technological advances of the last 25 years to challenge the traditional helicopter speed barrier of 150-170 kt. The company intends to fly its X2 technology demonstrator at 250 kt. cruise next year. Combine that with widely held expectations that the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor will emerge successfully from its latest operational evaluation and the resumption of flight tests for Bell/Agusta's BA609 civil tilt-rotor (and Bell's drive for a new anti-torque propulsion system), and we're looking at helicopter owners, operators and pilots having a lot to talk about in the next several years.
Those and other future aircraft are likely to include many safety and operational enhancements as market communities from EMS operators in the United States and offshore-support companies around the world to aerial firefighting outfits (as we see in this issue of Helicopter Training) push for safer and more efficient aircraft.
Advances in safety and efficiency will require more training and the growing pace of operations will require more pilots, which will keep us all talking about the challenges of training and how to meet them for some time to come.