Piasecki Aircraft has secured new work for its ‘Heliplex’ facility in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, signing a collaboration agreement with Columbia Helicopters to upgrade Model 107 tandem-rotor helicopters to a new more fuel-efficient standard.

Aurora, Oregon-based Columbia specialises in the conversion of surplus military tandem-rotor helicopters – the Boeing CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-47 Chinook – into commercial platforms for missions such as firefighting, emergency response and forestry.

Model 107-c-Columbia Helicopters

Source: Columbia Helicopters

Columbia holds the type certificate for the Model 107 – the civil variant of the CH-46 Sea Knight

Columbia holds the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) type certificates for the civil variants, respectively the Model 107 and Model 234, having acquired them from Boeing.

Although Columbia has its own upgrade and production facilities, in this instance it will use Piasecki to modernise in-service Model 107-IIs and ex-US military CH-46s – formerly operated by the US Navy and Marine Corps – raising them to the enhanced -III standard.

That sees the tandem-rotor type gain a new variant of its existing GE Aerospace CT58 engines that will boost power by 25% and cut fuel consumption by 15%.

Additional modifications to the drivetrain include the installation of improved seals, bearings, and coatings to increase reliability and reduce required maintenance time. A Foresight MX health and usage monitoring system from GPMS International will also be offered in future.

Future iterations of the Model 107-III will also gain an improved flight-control system including a fully coupled autopilot.

Modification work and testing for the upgrade will take place at Piasecki’s 20,300sq m (219,000sq ft) Heliplex facility in Coatesville, Pennsylvania – acquired in 2023 from Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky after the S-76 and S-92 production lines at the site were closed.

Operations at the site have already begun: Piasecki has completed ground tests for the upgraded Model 107-III and now eyeing the start of flight testing. Deliveries of the first example are scheduled later this year.

The Heliplex facility will also serve as Columbia’s new field service site and will include the establishment of an FAA-authorised Part 145 repair station at the location.

“We are thrilled to partner with Columbia Helicopters, a company that shares our heritage with the tandem-rotor helicopter, and our commitment to innovation and excellence in the rotorcraft industry,” says John Piasecki, chief executive of Piasecki Aircraft.

Piasecki’s involvement in the Model 107 programme brings the company full circle. Prior to its rebranding as Vertol, a company later acquired by Boeing, the original Piasecki Helicopter was a pioneer of tandem-rotor technology, developing notable designs including the H-21 Shawnee for the US Army – a forerunner to the Chinook and Sea Knight.

In addition, to the work for Columbia, Piasecki intends to use the Coatesville site for research and development activities connected to its own vertical take-off and landing platforms, including the forthcoming fuel cell-powered PA-890 helicopter.