Sikorsky has finished assembly of the first “baseline” S-92 to be delivered to Bristow Helicopters for the UK’s Long SAR requirement.
It will be handed over to the operator in July next year following fit-out with search and rescue mission equipment at the airframer’s facility in Coatsville, Pensylvania, says Dan Hunter, director of programmes.
In all, Bristow will receive seven brand-new examples of the 11t type in the period to July 2015. Four additional airframes, based in Sumburgh and Stornoway, are already in use under the UK’s Gap SAR contract and will transfer across when the new regime begins in 2015.
Bristow won the 10-year SAR deal in March this year. It will see the company take over search and rescue operations from Royal Navy and Royal Air Force units, replacing aged Westland Sea Kings with the S-92s and AgustaWestland AW189s.
They will be equipped with FLIR Systems Star Safire 380-HD imaging equipment, the sensor mnufacturer confirmed at Helitech.
The S-92 is ideally suited to the challenging SAR mission, says Alex Sharp, sales executive for Europe, Russia and Central Asia. “Just take out a map and look at where the S-92s will be based. They will all have to cope with long-range missions and pretty ugly weather.”
Meanwhile the manufacturer continues to evaluate the potential launch of a new helicopter in the super-medium segment. “We are not ready to announce anything right now,” says Hunter, “but we are looking at it – we’d be foolish not to.”
All three of Sikorsky’s Western rivals have super-medium helicopters due to enter service over the next two years. That, says Hunter, means that if the company opts to join the fray it will have to come up with a “discriminator” for the new type.
“We are looking at some really interesting technologies for that size class,” he says. “We have got an eye on anything that will help [operators] keep their costs where they need to be.”
Advances could include improved aerodynamics, more efficient – although not necessarily brand-new – engines and other performance gains.
The company will also continue to develop incremental improvements to the S-92, says Hunter, along the lines of the increase in payload and an avionics upgrade revealed earlier this year.
“Then we are working on a number of big improvements and then we will have to decide if the sum of those parts is a whole new helicopter,” he says.