Sergei Says: RPVs ‘Will Never Substitute a Pilot’  

By By Andrew Parker, Editor-in-Chief | July 9, 2014
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Other than Robinson Helicopter Co. founder Frank Robinson, with the passing of Charles Kaman in 2011, there is no one alive more iconic to the helicopter industry than Sergei Sikorsky. Currently serving as global ambassador for the Stratford, Conn.-based United Technologies Corp. subsidiary, Sergei is the son of company founder Igor Sikorsky, inventor of the world’s first mass-produced helicopter (among other inventions). During a CH-53K rollout ceremony in May, Sikorsky provided a group of journalists the opportunity to talk with Sergei. The company stressed that the answers are his personal opinions, and not representative of Sikorsky Aircraft. Here’s what Sergei said:

On the Future of the Manned Helicopter: “The only thing I can tell you right now, being a very conservative character, is that the pure, conventional helicopter is going to be around for a long time to come.”

On Remotely Piloted Vehicle Systems: “It’s no secret we’re working and flying ‘remotely controlled helicopters.’ It’s coming. I could envision a helicopter designed from the ground up as remote-controlled, programmed with Doppler radar altimeters and all those good things to be able to self-navigate, at least the terminal phase, the last 200 feet to make a landing fully automatic. I can see these fully automatic helicopters being used as supply vehicles – flying food, ammunition and fuel into isolated areas; I can see them also being used in hostile areas, where you might not want to send in the pilot because the risk of being killed begins to cost more, or become more apparent – then it becomes more logical to use an automatic helicopter that can do the job just as well.”



Sergei Sikorsky during a personal interview May 5 before the rollout ceremony for the U.S. Marine Corps CH-53K. Photo by Andrew Parker


On the Role of the Pilot: “Remote-controlled helicopters have a place, and they’re going to grow in importance. They will never substitute a pilot, but will be a very valuable asset – another way of doing the job. My personal opinion is the pilot is there to take care of the machine. The pilot is often capable of making decisions on the spot that a remote-controlled pilot will be unable to evaluate properly. Last but not least, you’re going to have cost problems. In many cases, you can do the same job with a manned helicopter cheaper and more efficiently. I’ve seen nothing even close that can take the place of a human brain. It’s flexible. It’s a very unique instrument. And it’s going to take a couple hundred-thousand years before we can duplicate it.”

On Fly-by-Wire: “We may be flying not only fly-by-wire in the controls, but we’re looking rather seriously right now at, for instance, an electric-driven tail rotor. All kinds of interesting things coming up. We are going electronic.”On Additive Manufacturing, or 3D Printing: “It’ll revolutionize manufacturing in another 25 to 30 years, and I think we’re just beginning to realize its impact.”

On R&D Funding and Industry Consolidation: “Probably in the next 10 years, we will see at least one manufacturer going out of business as a result of small, tighter schedules, and if you take a look at some of these programs, you’ll realize that what we’re seeing now is a generally downward curve in regards to R&D money and new-start projects. The encouraging thing here is that an awful lot of that technology that we’re developing now for the military will eventually wind up in civilian machines as well.”

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