King of king-size helicopters recovers quickly after Presidental contract loss
The S-92 had a good year, primarily offshore, but most recently in the search-and-rescue sector. How did you convince CHC to become the SAR launch customer?
The team here got this helicopter up to rate production in 13 months flat–that’s amazing considering the size of the bird–and the customer response has been magnificent. I think our customers now have 19 active S-92s flying and, in the same 13 months, we have accumulated more than 10,000 flying hours.
Operators such as PHI, Cougar and CHC are putting 140 hours a month on their aircraft–an amazing operational tempo–and the earlier ones already have 1,400 hours on the clock. We’ve had our icing system certified in North America and, as you say, it’s been picked for the civil SAR task in the UK.
We have hoist-fitted S-92s in service but this will be the aircraft’s first proper SAR role. By the end of the year we’ll deliver a fully compliant rescue helicopter, with a new four-axis AFCS [automatic flight control system], new cabin door, new rescue hoist and so on. CHC actually helped us to design the SAR variant and flew it with the operation in mind, so they knew its potential.
Has this win helped its prospects in the USAF combat SAR competition?
I know the S-92 was being criticized by our competitors as unproven technology in the SAR world but I don’t think that has been a major factor. What I do know is that the Department of Defense has been contacting our civil customers to find out what they think about it–how it flies, how it is supported and so on–so that has delivered some leverage. We’ve been really focused on the logistical side and I know that is of real importance to the DOD.
And the S-76 is still making waves.
It’s setting new records. The C++ has been FAA-certified and the first couple have been delivered. The 600-plus fleet has accumulated more than four million flight hours and I think we’ll reach 700 airframes quicker than we’ve ever done–perhaps by the summer of 2008.
At Heli-Expo we’re rolling out a couple of components for the -D model. The Thales TopDeck cockpit is modeled on the architecture in the Airbus A380 and we have a mockup that people can sit in and see the interactivity that Thales has designed. Pratt & Whitney Canada also has an update on its new 210 engine and our new composite rotor blade supplier is here. The program is full-steam ahead.
How is the X-2 progressing?
We announced the project in June last year, and we are now approaching critical design review. The aircraft should ground-run in July, which is quite a feat. It’s still on schedule to fly before the end of the year. We knew that Schweizer had expertise in this size of helicopter and is, frankly, more nimble than Sikorsky–but its progress has surprised us as well. Later in the summer, when the initial ground runs are out of the way, we’ll start talking about it a bit more.
Is the Keystone takeover fruitful?
We are significantly increasing production of our commercial lines–by 20 percent in terms of revenue growth in 2006–and I like the idea of being able to touch the customer the whole way, from initial contact to delivery. The Keystone deal allows us to do that.
It continues as a separate entity with its own business model–working with our competitors’ products as well–but it completes the circle for the Sikorsky brand. So we’re excited about those possibilities.