A PHI Sikorsky S-92A cruises over an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin
Sikorsky has big plans for the fielded fleet of 300 or so S-92 helicopters, introducing a suite of technologies to boost reliability while reducing operating cost of the medium-lift aircraft.
Fielded helicopters that receive the retrofits will be redesignated as the S-92A+ after modification, and newly produced aircraft with nearly-identical configuration as the S-92B.
The S-92B will feature enlarged cabin windows and plans for a common cabin door suitable for offshore and SAR configurations.
“From the birth of the S-92, we’ve always been committed to keeping the fielded fleet updated, that we wouldn’t just ignore the fielded aircraft out there,” Sikorsky’s Oil and Gas Market Segment Leader David Martin told R&WI in a recent interview.
The S-92A+ satisfies that goal of keeping the fielded fleet technologically relevant. New aircraft, then, would roll of the assembly line in the nearly-identical S-92B configuration. Those will have slightly larger cabin windows and an enhanced cabin door, the only differences between the retrofit and new-built aircraft.
“We’re anticipating that most of the customer interest is going to be around the A+, but not knowing where everyone is at, how that mix [will shake out], that is one of the things we’re interested in learning … from the customers as we roll out the A+ and the B; what’s the interest level and the mix between the two products?” Martin said. “That will help guide our continued investment strategy.”
Out of an S-92 product roadmap meeting in December 2017 came the realization that customers are under extreme pressure to reduce operating cost, he said. There are about 300 fielded S-92s that would be eligible for upgrade to A+ configuration, of which about 200 are employed in the offshore oil-and-gas market.
“We took a look at our product roadmap and realized there are multiple technologies kind of all maturing here at the same time and many of them are focused on cost and they are complementary to the performance of the aircraft,” Martin said. “When we put these things together, we found the sum of these things is even greater than the individual parts. So, bringing this to market as a mid-life upgrade brings a standardization to the supply chain that adds even more benefit as to cost and efficiency than if we did them as individual kits.”
Changes will increase commonality of the aircraft between the offshore, search-and-rescue (SAR), and utility configurations and allow for speedier reconfiguration between roles.
The upgrade kit includes introduction of phase-one MATRIX autonomous control technology that will bring advanced computing power to the platform. This foundation enables adoption of autonomous landing technology such as Rig Approach 2.0 — which reduces the pilot-controlled approach to oil rigs from a half-mile to a quarter-mile — and a new technology from Sikorsky’s innovations lab called SuperSearch that uses advanced algorithms to locate objects up to 30 percent faster at sea.
Both configurations will include a new Phase IV main gearbox. This gearbox has been validated to exceed the requirements of CFR 29.927(c) as demonstrated by full-scale testing witnessed by the FAA. All of the primary lubrication system oil was removed prior to operating the gearbox for the equivalent of over 500 nautical miles of flight at an airspeed of 80 knots. No discernable anomalies were identified during the post-test examination.
General Electric’s CT7-8A6 engine, capable of producing more power in higher altitudes and hotter temperatures, also will be available as an option for both the S-92A+ and S-92B products.
Sikorsky has significantly invested to bring these capabilities into production, but will let market interest determine the pace of remaining internal research and development spending. Current plans have initial availability set for 2022 and have an S-92B price target below historical S-92 prices. The S-92A+ kit is being designed to allow common fleet benefit at an economical targeted price.
“We think safety is a good investment, and so we welcome Sikorsky’s investment in this significant new technology, which will drive greater reliability, resilience and operational capability,” said Gretchen Haskins, CEO of HeliOffshore.
Since 2004, Sikorsky has delivered more than 300 production S-92 helicopters. The industry standard for safety and reliability, the S-92 is the preferred aircraft of its size class for offshore oil worker transportation. In 2018, the fleet flew 175,000 hours, a record for the fleet, contributing to a total of nearly 1.5 million hours flown.
With the oil-and-gas market flat, if not slightly on the upswing, Sikorsky is marketing the upgrade kits and new S-92B as a capability and reliability upgrade to a proven platform at a fraction of the price of a new helicopter.
“For the value that you already have in a very capable platform like the S-92, for much less than you would spend to procure a brand-new aircraft, you can incorporate the A+ kit, which by the way brings the added benefit of reduced operating cost, and now you have an aircraft that can take 19 passengers from a platform as close in as 100 nautical miles offshore … all the way out to, I think the longest mission we’ve ever done is 282 nautical miles offshore,” Martin said.