Graham Warwick/STRATFORD

Sikorsky is coming under increasing pressure from potential customers to launch production of its private-venture S-92 medium helicopter. The current plan calls for a production decision after the first flight, scheduled for September, but increasing interest in the aircraft could lead to a decision early in 1998, allowing deliveries to begin in 2001.

The S-92 programme was launched in 1995 as a five-aircraft development effort involving Sikorsky and risk-sharing partners Aero Industrial Development (Taiwan), Embraer (Brazil), Gamesa (Spain), Jingdezhen Helicopter Group (China) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan). Assembly of the first two airframes at Sikorsky is well advanced.

Although formal marketing has not begun, an unsolicited offer of the larger S-92 was presented as part of Sikorsky's H-60-based Maplehawk bid for Canada's search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter contract. Portugal has a similar requirement and has been supplied with information on the S-92, says programme vice-president Kenneth Kelly. Denmark has already expressed a preference for the S-92 to replace its Sikorsky S-61 SAR helicopters, he says.

Sikorsky has provided S-92 briefings to the US Marine Corps squadron, which operates the US Presidential-transport S-61s; to the US Coast Guard, which is drawing up its long-range fleet plan and to the US Air Force, for possible special-forces use on long-range combat-SAR missions.

Kelly says that the US Army has been briefed on S-92 improvements which could be used to upgrade its UH-60 Black Hawks. These include more-powerful General Electric CT7-8 turboshafts, uprated transmissions and all-composite rotor blades. Together, these would give the UH-60 a true 4,500kg hot-and-high lift capability, he says.

The S-92 is being developed as a commercial 19-passenger helicopter, as well as a military utility-transport, and there is increasing interest in the aircraft from North Sea offshore-support operators, Kelly says. Together, these emerging requirements are increasing pressure on Sikorsky to accelerate a production decision, he believes.

The first S-92, the ground-test article, is scheduled to be delivered to Sikorsky's West Palm Beach, Florida, flight-test centre in March. The following four aircraft will be used for flight testing, and commercial type-certification is planned for mid-2000.

Source: Flight International