Sikorsky’s ongoing pursuit of its next civil rotorcraft has narrowed to concepts in a size class over 4.5t (10,000lb), further distancing the Lockheed Martin company from the light helicopter market after it disposed of the Schweizer brand earlier this year.
The sizing strategy is driven by Sikorsky’s view that its resources and skills are best applied to large and complex rotorcraft systems, says Dana Fiatarone, Sikorsky’s vice-president of commercial systems and services.
“We’re probably going to be north of 10,000lb in the development programme,” Fiatarone says, speaking to journalists on 27 February.
Market stagnation has stifled new product launches in the commercial helicopter industry for several years, but companies are continuing to make investments in anticipation of an eventual recovery.
Bell chief executive Mitch Snyder acknowledged an ongoing development project for a new commercial aircraft during his press conference at the Heli-Expo convention, but declined to provide any details.
Sikorsky has indicated its interest in replacing or supplementing its two flagship commercial products – the 5t-class S-76 and 12t S-92 – for several years. But Fiatarone says that Sikorsky refuses to launch a “me-too” product for the commercial market, meaning that the company wants to look beyond conventional helicopter approaches to speed and cockpit automation. This is a comment that has been often heard from executives in recent times.
For a decade, the company has been developing high-speed rotorcraft for the military, designed around a coaxial rotor system with a pusher propeller for forward thrust – beginning with the Collier Trophy-winning X2 demonstrator.
“I would expect us to take a look at that. I like the idea of X2 technology,” Fiatarone says. “I can see us having a conversation where it makes sense to have some type of that technology going forward.”
Meanwhile, Sikorsky continues to work on the X2’s successors for the military – the S-97 Raider prototype and a collaboration with Boeing on the SB-1 Defiant.
Sikorsky expects to have the S-97 Raider back in testing in late March or early April, following a hard landing last year that damaged a prototype aircraft, Sikorsky chief executive Dan Schultz says. The SB-1 was originally scheduled to fly last year as part of a demonstration for the US Army, but remains in assembly with no announced timeline for first flight.
Sikorsky still has a “bunch of things left to do with Boeing”, Schultz says, without elaborating. The company is also waiting for a gearbox delivery from Northstar, he adds. “We’re still not there yet."
CORRECTION: The S-97 will resume ground testing in late March or early April, not flight testing as previously reported.