A Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk might seem out of place at a commercial helicopter convention, but several companies were present at this year's Heli-Expo touting modifications and mission kits for retired US Army A-models as they eye a potentially huge supply of feeder aircraft.
Robertson Fuel Systems debuted its new conformal auxiliary fuel system on a BHI²-owned H-60. The modification pushes the commercially designated S-70's range out by 124nm (230km), or adds 75min of endurance.
Arista Aviation – a maintenance, repair and overhaul company in Enterprise, Alabama – is known for restoring former US government-owned Bell UH-1 Hueys for commercial customers, and is now pushing Black Hawks as the army sheds hundreds of A-models in favour of the latest Sikorsky UH-60M.
Arista vice-president of sales Rob Lee says acquiring new Black Hawks would be too expensive for many military and commercial customers. A more cost-effective means is to buy A-models at auction and have third-party maintenance providers like his bring them up to flight-worthy status, simultaneously adding modifications like auxiliary fuel tanks, sensors and hoists.
“We feel that a UH-60A is a viable alternative or replacement for a UH-1 in service with foreign militaries,” Lee says. “The pool of aircraft that will be retired from the army numbers in the several hundred range, so there is an adequate supply that exists.”
Timberline Helicopters is offering similar services, but primarily for the commercial utility market. Timberline’s upgrade received US Federal Aviation Administration certification last week, which includes conversion to the latest GE Aviation T700-701D engines that power the army's M-variant, says Stephen Johnson, business development director at the Sandpoint, Idaho firm.
It acquired its two Black Hawks in 2014, with one displayed at Heli-Expo. Timberline removed about 408kg (900lbs) from its H-60s and installed new avionics panels as part of the upgrade work.
“We tried to produce an aircraft that a utility operator is going to want, like us,” says Johnson. “We made the aircraft we wanted, in fact, this aircraft goes to work as soon as it leaves here.”
Timberline also operates two Kaman K-Max utility helicopters which can carry a 2,720kg payload compared with the Black Hawk's 3,930kg.