Sikorsky’s yearly report on the state of the company at Heli-Expo yielded no big surprises. The company is doing well, moving forward with all its major programs and positioning itself for further growth by focusing on customer satisfaction, deeper penetration into existing and emerging markets, and developing the new technologies and products it introduced in the past decade or so.
Sikorsky President Dan Schultz started, perhaps not surprisingly due to his history as a U.S. Marine Corps aviator, by reporting on the status of the CH-53K King Stallion. He characterized the program as “going gangbusters,” and they are preparing to transport one to Germany for the ILA Berlin Air Show April 25 to 29, when it will be shown off with a flying demonstration.
This will be the first appearance of the aircraft overseas to, of course, promote the model to international buyers, while stateside the program is in full production and they will be decamping West Palm Beach to Naval Air Station Patuxent River to complete the follow-on operational test and evaluation. Schultz shared, as an aside on the aircraft’s performance, “it broke ground the other day at 91,000 pounds.”
He lauded the Black Hawk product line for its ubiquity and reliability, as evidenced by the ongoing "Multi-Year 9" contract, as well as completion of qualification testing for the Black Hawk weapons system for which he claimed a two-hour turnaround in attaching, configuring and arming an aircraft.
The Firehawk, a highly customized version of the S-70 developed in cooperation with United Rotorcraft for the firefighting role, while also providing the utility of a cargo/troop hauler, has seen a recent surge in sales. Schultz paraphrased conversations he’s had with the crews flying the aircraft as, “We are saving lives, saving property, every day with the Firehawk.”
Sikorsky is also progressing with optionally piloted vehicles, including a Black Hawk variant, a capability they see as critical to the future of manned flight, freeing crews from tasks for which automation might be better suited and allowing the humans to focus on the mission rather than operating the aircraft.
With falling oil prices, the S-92, developed in part to serve the offshore oil and gas market, has experienced some weakness in demand, but is expected to remain a popular model in the industry. Schultz pointed to its successes in search and rescue, its ongoing development as a military asset in Canada and for VIP transport including, of course, for the U.S. president as well as 11 other heads of state worldwide.
He touched on several programs in development, including the S-97 Raider, a medium-lift military utility and attack aircraft that was developed from its X2 test program. The company expects to fly the test aircraft at 220 knots this March.
Dana Fiatarone, VP of commercial systems and services, provided updates to the commercial side of the business, starting with the announcement that the fleet of S-76 aircraft has exceeded 7 million flight hours.
Fiatarone called out several customer service and support initiatives, including Sikorsky360, real-time HUMS and its iFly electronic flight bag as evidence of its continuing efforts to support its customers at many levels. It also have opened four forward parts stocking locations, in Scotland, Brazil, Australia and, celebrating its first year of operation, Stavanger, Norway. This last site, he reported, delivers parts to AOG aircraft in 35 minutes. Additional sites are being considered.
Real-time HUMS is operating in the Gulf of Mexico, where it was launched last year with PHI, in partnership with Metro Aviation, and has since received EASA STC approval this January for testing in the North Sea. Fiatarone expressed the importance of the system providing pilots who might be faced with a possible emergency while airborne access to technicians on the ground to help the flight crew make the best operational decisions. “The pilot is no longer alone,” he observed.
He pointed out that iFly now incorporates real-time weather, which reduces flight crew workloads and thus improves mission performance.
“Customers face extreme cost pressures,” related Fiatarone. “My goal, quite honestly, is that they never miss a scheduled flight,” and the company reports making progress over the past year, with a 30% reduction in AOG occurrences and a 20% in AOG turnaround time. “Everything we do, quality comes first.”
When asked about future, what they termed next-gen, commercial aircraft, Fiatarone remained mum. He pointed out that, with the sale of the former Schweizer product line to RSG Schweizer, a sale it undertook only after it felt the transition would be in the best interests of the current and future fleet, it remains committed to, and can focus more resources on, the S-76 and S-92 product lines.
When pressed on the idea of re-entering the light helo market, Fiatarone admitted that the industry is always changing, and “the world could look different in 20 years.”
Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, is headquartered in Stratford, Connecticut, and employs nearly 15,000 employees in 11 countries. Its helicopters are used by all five branches of the U.S. armed forces, along with military services and commercial operators in 40 nations.