Alabama-based aircraft upgrade specialist Ace Aeronautics sees increasing international demand for its upgrade programme for legacy Sikorsky Black Hawks from both civil and military operators.

Although its largest contract to date has been with Austria, covering a total of 12 helicopters – a mix of S-70As and UH-60Ls – arguably the most high-profile is with Ukraine, where two of its aircraft are now flying.

S70 Austria-c-Bundesheer

Source: Bundesheer

Austria is upgrading Black Hawk fleet with Ace Deck cockpit

“Believe it or not, those helicopters were crowdfunded,” says chief executive Rich Enderle. The first example – previously registered N60FW – was delivered in 2023 and was followed earlier this year by its sister ship.

The latter has yet to receive the company’s signature Ace Deck VL-60 cockpit upgrade, through which it strips out analogue displays and equipment and replaces them with a Garmin G5000H digital avionics suite.

However, Enderle says it has a team heading to Kyiv shortly to perform the modification.

In addition, Ace is hopeful of additional sales to the Eastern European country as it battles the Russian invasion.

“There are a couple of other countries that say they have funding available and want to help Ukraine and the Black Hawk is the platform of choice.

“We hope we will get the opportunity to put more in there and more than one at a time.”

Meanwhile, Ace continues to work through its contract with Austria. To date, five of nine S-70As have been redelivered to Vienna and two more will follow shortly, having being accepted in the USA by the customer.

Another two airframes are in transit to Ace’s Guntersville facility and should arrive in May, he says. In addition, Ace has three former US Army UH-60Ls in storage which will also receive the cockpit upgrade for later delivery to Austria.

Ace is also installing the VL-60 cockpit in six firefighting UH-60s for Portugal as part of an industry team led by Arista Aviation Services.

Although best known for the cockpit upgrade work, Enderle – who joined the company last March – says Ace has since expanded its capabilities.

“We are not just an avionics shop any more. We are not just focused on the cockpit – that’s a discriminator we have that no-one else has – but our focus now is to acquire aircraft, do all the maintenance needed and prepare it for the mission, whatever the mission is.”

Ace strips the aircraft down to bare metal before performing detailed inspections and maintenance work, with the aircraft then repainted on site.

It has acquired a total of 21 UH-60Ls from the US Army, of which 14 are still available, says Enderle.

In addition, it is considering the possibility of also performing the cockpit upgrade on the newer M-model UH-60.

Enderle sees a potential requirement for such an enhancement to future-proof the UH-60M, in part driven by the army’s decision to axe the L to V-standard upgrade and instead buy more new-build examples.