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Thu, Feb 10, 2005

HeliExpo '05: Sikorsky Lays Out Its S-76 Roadmap

Flagship Civil Helo To Get Updates

Sikorsky's Jeff Pino, Senior VP of Sales, faced a crowd of curious newsmen. "I know we're pretty brave calling a meeting at three o'clock," (Pacific time, on Super Bowl Sunday), he said, "so I'll be brief..." but he thought it was important to communicate the future of the S-76 line. "Really, we've set out about a ten year path here," he said, referring to the S-76C++ and S-76D that were introduced a few hours earlier in a presentation remarkably thin on detail. Now it was time to share the details.

"We've been asked for many,many years, when were we going to do something to the S-76?" Perhaps drastic change isn't necessary: during the show, Sikorsky was delivering aircraft number 615 off the production line. But the major reason the S-76 went without major modifications is that Sikorsky was sinking enormous resources into the S-92 project. With the S-92 completed and being delivered, there was time to relook the S-76 and find out what the customers really wanted.

"The customers really spoke to us, hard, about what they wanted," Pino said. "The key word was 'more': more power,more range, more comfort... quieter... I can't say 'more quieter,' but a more quiet interior, more safety, more reliability, more efficiency. And then they had the little nuance that said, the only thing they don't want 'more' is the price."

Then he said they were going to get pretty much what they wanted, and explained exactly how the new S-76C++ and future S-76D will deliver it. The S-76C++, as the name of the machine replacing the S-76C+ hints, tells a tale of incremental improvements -- nothing drastic. The S-76D gets into drastic territory, with an all-new engine from a new (to the S-76 program) vendor, new rotors based on advanced technology developed for the abortive military Comanche program, an all-new glass cockpit and even a restyled fuselage shape.

Up until the end of this year Sikorsky will deliver the current S-76C+. At the end of the year, the new S-76C++ will be available, and it will remain the standard S-76 until the radical D-model replaces it in mid-2008. But all the remaining S-76C+ airframes are sold already, so if you place an order today it will be for an S-76C++ and will be delivered next year.

What's In an S-76C++?

The price hasn't changed, but the helicopter has, in subtle ways. A more powerful Turbomeca Arriel engine provides 5-6% more power and increases the S-76's high and hot performance. Sikorsky designed a barrier inlet filter for the new Arriel 2S2 engine that filters out damaging particulate matter, but that doesn't attenuate normal inlet flow.  A proprietary "superfinishing" process will reduce gearbox noise, reduce friction, and increase durability. "It changes the shape of the gears; it provides them with a mirror glass finish...it makes the transmission very, very noise-free." Sikorsky has been doing this microfinish treatment to selected VIP machines, but starting with the C++, it's going to be standard on S-76s. This improvement alone lowers cabin sound pressure levels by 4 dB, to as low as 83dB, about the level of an airline cabin in cruise, by Sikorsky's measurements. But that's not all that's been done to quiet the copter.

A Honeywell VMX HUMS (Health and Usage Monitoring System) will fight vibration by providing rotor track and balance and drive system monitoring. It will be an option, but the default will be to include the system. In addition, the interior will be redesigned using Keystone Helicopters' Silencer technology to reduce noise even further.

Sikorsky customers must like the C++, because at the show, and in the week prior, Sikorsky took 12 orders for the improved S-76.

And What Makes The S-76D Different?

"The D has got some interesting technologies that will make it a better and much different helicopter," Pino said.

Both the main rotor and tail rotor will be completely redesigned. They're going to have all-composite rotor blades. "This was at the direct insistence of some of our offshore customers," Pino explained. The chord, airfoil, and tip shape are all going to be completely redone. "We're going to draw a lot of experience from Comanche." Aerodynamic lessons learned from the Comanche project have now migrated through the Sikorsky product line, to the UH-60M upgrade program, to the S-92, and now to the S-76. The rotor blade upgrade -- alone -- will increase payload in high/hot conditions by 400 lbs.

The composite rotor blades will be completely de-iced, and the S-76D will ultimately be certificated for flight into known icing. It inherits this system from its big sister, the S-92, for which known icing certification is nearly complete. The icing certification will follow the basic aircraft certification by about a year,to allow for sufficient flight testing in icing conditions.

Sikorsky plans at this time to make de-icing available as a retrofit to operators of S-76B,-C, -C+, and C++ models once it is in regular production in the D model.

The tail rotor is going to be redesigned for noise reduction, yielding a 1.5 to 2 dB reduction, which sounds insignificant, but if achieved will make the S-76 conform to SFAR 52, the Grand Canyon noise-amelioration rule.

Pino used the tail rotor to hint about his big bombshell: "The tail rotor is going to need a little bit less horsepower -- from the very powerful engine we're going to put in it...as I'll tell you in a minute."

Leaving the rotors and powerplants for a moment, Pino was not able to say what vendor will be providing the state-of-the-art glass cockpit for the S-76D. That's because that vendor is one of several right now competing for that business. "We'll have to pick that quickly because they'll have to work with -- and this is our most exciting announcement -- we're working with Pratt and Whitney [Canada] on a brand new engine, that they've dubbed the Pratt and Whitney 210." Jeff Pino said little more about the PW210, not wanting to steal PWC's thunder.

"I will say...when they brought us this idea,and told us they would line it up with.. the D model, it was virtually a no-brainer, to make the very tough decision to change engines. But THIS engine will provide another THOUSAND pounds of lift, over and above the 400 that we're going to get from the new rotor system."

This capability may, or may not, lead to a gross weight increase -- it will certainly allow operators to operate the S-76D at the current gross weight (11,700 lb). in higher and hotter conditions than would be possible with earlier S-76s. Later on, in response to a question, Pino said that Sikorsky knew they wanted a new engine, and PWC "...brought us a deal: to put a brand new... engine on our airplane. Size it, scope it, configure it, for OUR aircraft, and nobody else's. That was really just an impossible one to turn down."

Jeff Pino (shown above) closed by pointing out that over the last three years, Sikorsky's commercial helicopter business has grown sixfold in dollar terms. In the last year they took 53 orders for the S-92; the first S-92 revenue flights (by PHI in the Gulf of Mexico) have already taken place. Sikorsky has sold out 2005 and the first half of 2006 production of the S-92 already.

FMI: www.sikorsky.com

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