There are several clarifications regarding the U.S. Army’s program to offer surplus Black Hawks for sale to the civil market.
It was previously unclear who would actually show up with a checkbook. Now, several operators, including Northwest Helicopters, Arista Aviation, P.J. Helicopters, Brainerd Helicopters, Brown Helicopters, Timberline Helicopters and Unical Aviation, have all taken advantage of the program and acquired multiple airframes. Surely that’s only a partial list.
The price disclosed by folks willing to comment has varied from $500,000 to $1.2 million per airframe. With one exception, all of the companies listed previously have either acquired or were in the process of acquiring a Restricted Category type certificate from the FAA. Their plans for the airframes include firefighting, lift work, movie production and heli-logging. The scope of use for these aircraft will, of course, be controlled by FAR 91.313, or they will be operated as public aircraft when on contract for various governmental agencies.
So the question of the level of interest in acquiring these airframes seems to be resolved. The answer being that serious operators have done their sums, looked at their marketplace and followed through with serious money—the only reality that truly counts.
Airframe and engine support going forward is the next question. The model A Black Hawk airframes as delivered have General Electric T700 engines installed. This engine has been in service for 35-plus years and has an enviable reputation for reliability. However, it is faced with some end-of-life issues going forward.
That said, Edwin Birtwell, vice president of Turboshaft engines for GE Aviation, was adamant that “GE looks forward to working with their new customer base for this engine” and that “GE intends to support this engine to include upgrades to bring the engine into line with current available technology.” For what it’s worth, I have known Edwin for 16 years, and he is a man who says what he means and does what he says. On the airframe, I see signs that Sikorsky will support the program. As I spoke with Mark Dunsall of P.J. Helicopters, he indicated that his conversations with Sikorsky have been very encouraging in that “Sikorsky has said all the right things in regards to support” and that Sikorsky had visited P.J.’s facilities.
Several aftermarket companies and product support companies also have displayed an interest in getting into this market segment. John Holland, director of sales for Aero Metals out of El Dorado Hills, California, said the company has a long history of supporting various MD-500-model helicopters, building Parts Manufacturing Authority parts and projecting work for a wide variety of fixed-wing and helicopter manufacturers. John has indicated that Aero Metals is developing an engine inlet barrier filter, which should be qualified in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Aero Metals is also considering manufacturing for the Black Hawk an exhaust system that does not include the Hover Infrared Suppression System (HIRSS) to reduce the weight and improve engine performance.
P.J. Helicopters has developed a vertical reference kit for the Black Hawk with a blister-style pilot’s window. A supplemental type certificate has been issued for the kit, which has been used on several vertical reference missions with great success. This will be an important modification to the aircraft for external load work. The pilot and co-pilot sit well toward the middle of a Black Hawk for crashworthiness considerations. Without such a window, it is nearly impossible for the pilot to have a visual reference to the load.
Air Methods’ United Rotorcraft division is also interested in supporting the Black Hawk market. Building off of its work with the U.S. Army and its various medevac programs, and their involvement with the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Firehawk program, Air Methods has a wealth of knowledge about the airframe from which to base other product offerings.
Several of these Black Hawks will be on display at Heli-Expo. Additionally, it appears both Sikorsky and United Rotorcraft will be hosting meetings to facilitate better communication between the user community, the OEMs and the aftermarket support folks.