AirMed&Rescue spoke to Nathalie Previte, Sikorsky Vice-President, Strategy and Business Development, about the company’s past, present and future
Allowing for modifications to airframes keeps Sikorsky very active when it comes to re-purposing helicopters. Could you tell us about the FIREHAWK modifications you are making to Black Hawks?
Throughout the 40 years that Black Hawk helicopters have been in production, there have been countless modifications, which have significantly contributed to the company’s competitive advantage. To become a Firehawk, a Black Hawk is equipped with a 1,000-gallon water external belly tank, extended landing gear to give the tank added clearance from the ground, a retractable snorkel, and a rescue hoist. In the case of the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD), a single pilot cockpit and a medically equipped interior complete the transformation to the Firehawk configuration. LACoFD and Sikorsky co-developed the Firehawk in the early 2000s with second generation Black Hawk aircraft that are still operational. In 2018, Sikorsky delivered two S-70 Black Hawk aircraft to LACoFD to be converted to the Firehawk configuration in 2019. As third generation aircraft, these new Firehawks will provide greater lift and power, so that pilots carrying water at 10,000-ft (3,048 m) altitude in hot conditions are not living on the edge of their power margin.
As third generation aircraft, these new Firehawks will provide greater lift and power, so that pilots carrying water at 10,000-ft (3,048 m) altitude in hot conditions are not living on the edge of their power margin
How important is the air medical sector to the company?
The air medical sector is incredibly important to Sikorsky. Igor Sikorsky founded the company with a vision for the helicopter being used as a life-saving tool. This community speaks to the foundation of our company and shares a legacy deeply invested in saving and bettering lives. The S-76 has a robust 30-year history of providing safe and reliable EMS operations. We strive to provide first responders with the highest speed, lowest vibration and high-performing equipment that is needed to properly care for patients in critical condition, with safety and reliability always our priority. We know that minutes matter to this community. By using the capabilities of the S-76 technology advancements, first responders have been able to save countless lives, both internationally and domestically.
Digital cockpits are now standard on most new aircraft – what’s the next step for cockpit design and innovation?
We believe the next major step will be to change from piloting to mission management. With that change, we’ll see new ways to interact with the system. We are working on new ways to present data to the pilot, as well as to receive pilot inputs.
Many customers are looking for ways to address changing mission requirements by adding functionality to aircraft. Leveraging the latest in open system design, we’re able to add specific mission equipment packages and provide additional information to the pilots in the cockpit. As we increase the level of automation in helicopters, open systems allow for rapid adaptation in the way information is consolidated and presented to most effectively manage meeting mission objectives.
We believe the next major step will be to change from piloting to mission management
Sikorsky has a long history of working on cutting-edge technology while also keeping safety and reliability as a primary focus. Sikorsky has been working on MATRIX Technology, our self-funded autonomy program, since 2013. Through MATRIX™ Technology, we are developing systems intelligence that will give operators the confidence to fly their large rotorcraft or fixed-wing aircraft safely, reliably and affordably as autonomous or optionally piloted aircraft. This technology can go on both commercial and military aircraft. MATRIX Technology is installed on SARA (Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft), a modified S-76B that we consider a flying lab where we test out our capabilities and mature the technology. MATRIX Technology is like a virtual second pilot that will help operators fly safely and confidently in dangerous and complex missions.
We continue to look at other ways that MATRIX Technology is applicable across the Lockheed Martin portfolio.
Composite Technology Inc (CTI) is a Sikorsky company. What does refurbishing used rotor blades teach the company about the design of new ones?
We always look for ways to improve our products. That is one of the main reasons we have embedded engineers at the repair facility. The process of refurbishing rotor blades provides Sikorsky with first-hand insight into patterns of repair that can improve performance. Since CTI repairs blades from all types of customers, Sikorsky is able to develop performance and endurance changes from a myriad of different flight regimes. This data contributes to our continuous effort to improve customer satisfaction, reduce direct operating costs, and increase blade longevity, and is one of the things that sets CTI ahead of the competition.
The Asia Pacific area is considered by most in the industry to be a largely untapped resource when it comes to the sale of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. What is Sikorsky doing to make sure it’s part of this increasingly vital market?
Sikorsky has been a significant part of the Asia Pacific helicopter market for decades. For more than 65 years Sikorsky helicopters have been present in Asia Pacific, during which time Sikorsky has developed a strong reputation of safety, quality and trust and is today supporting a fleet of more than 700 civilian and military helicopters in the Asia Pacific area. Most recently, we relocated a Sikorsky Forward Stocking Location from the east coast of Australia to Perth, Australia, in response to our customers’ needs.
Sikorsky sold its 20th search and rescue S-76D in Asia, and now more than half of the world’s S-76D fleet is operating in Asia
On the civil side, the search and rescue mission segment is the recent standout, and in September 2018, Sikorsky sold its 20th search and rescue S-76D in Asia, and now more than half of the world’s S-76D fleet is operating in Asia. Sikorsky has invested in new technologies and the augmentation of the availability and distribution of parts in support of the S-76D and the S-92 in the Asia Pacific area.
In addition to new sales, we are continuing to focus on sustainment improvements throughout the region and keeping our customers flying. In 2018, we authorised our first Customer Support Center in Thailand with Thai Aviation Services, making it our seventh CSC in the Asia Pacific region.
We believe that the strong Sikorsky reputation for safety, quality and trust, fostered with many customers for more than 65 years, coupled with Sikorsky’s continued focus on finding ways of facilitating customer operations, are important attributes that current and prospective customers demand and appreciate.
The future of vertical lift is something that Sikorsky has been talking about for some time now – what does that really mean for the company? Is it all about helicopter autonomy?
The future of vertical lift involves autonomy or optionally-piloted helicopters and much more. Sikorsky is developing and building the next generation of helicopters that can meet the future, increasingly demanding, needs of our military and commercial customers. We are increasing range, speed, safety, manoeuvrability and capability to allow for effective operation in the challenging and evolving environments in which our customers operate. One example is that we submitted our Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) proposal to the US Army in December, enabled by our confidence in X2 Technology that has been achieved through flight tests of our S-97 Raider aircraft. While we are developing aircraft for the future, we are also advancing technologies like data intelligence and autonomy that enhance our current aircraft to bridge the gap between today’s aircraft and the aircraft of the future.
Aerospace pioneer Igor Sikorsky founded the company in 1923 as the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation. Currently, all US military branches, along with military and commercial operators in 40 nations, fly Sikorsky helicopters. Commercial S-76® and S-92® helicopters provide search and rescue, VIP, and offshore oil crew transport. Rotorcraft innovation continues with the CH-53K, CH148, S-97 RAIDER® and optionally piloted aircraft technology. Sikorsky is currently the largest supplier of military helicopters to the US Government, and the Sikorsky Black Hawk is the most widely flown military utility helicopter in the world.
Sikorsky was acquired by Lockheed Martin in November 2015.
This article appears in the March 2019 print edition.