As Sikorsky launches production on the S-76D helicopter, the company has acknowledged that development setbacks have delayed first delivery by four years until 2012.

Czech Republic-based Aero Vodochody delivered the first production fuselage on 19 November, launching final assembly at Sikorsky Global Helicopters' factory in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.

Two S-76D prototypes also entered certification flights in November, with a third aircraft to join the test fleet early next year ahead of scheduled sea-level certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration by the fourth quarter of 2011.

The programme is recovering from unspecified "discoveries" during the development phase, says Jesse Bavaro, S-76D deputy programme manager.

"We have been careful in our approach to expanding the S-76D envelope," Bavaro explains. "It took longer than planned to exit the development phase and begin full certification testing, which resulted in first deliveries being moved to 2012."

Sikorsky also notes "three very solid indicators" that the S-76D programme is progressing. The tempo of flight testing has jumped by 150% in the last six months compared to the preceding 16 months, the company says, while it has also launched production and FAA certification activities.

The S-76D programme was launched in 2005 to replace the S-76C++ as the company's medium-twin commercial helicopter. The new model introduces two 1,000shp (746kW) Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210S engines with dual full authority digital engine controls, a Thales avionics suite, a "quiet" mode and an optional rotor ice protection system. Sikorsky is also incorporating an all-composite, four-bladed rotor system.

Source: Flight International