March 6, 2013
By Thomas B Haines
Legendary helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky kicked off its ninetieth birthday milestone with a big gift from a different Milestone—Milestone Aviation Group placed an order for 30 new Sikorsky S-92A and S-76D helicopters with an option for 24 more. Richard Santulli, CEO of the leasing company, explained that the changing world of oil and gas exploration is increasing the demand for larger, more expensive helicopters to move crews and gear farther out to sea. Traditional offshore companies are having trouble underwriting such expensive helicopters, which is where Milestone, founded in 2010, comes in. By buying helicopter fleets, the company can better finance the assets and lease them to the operators at an affordable rate.
Santulli learned much about financing aircraft fleets as the founder of fractional aircraft company NetJets.
Meanwhile, the newly certified S-76D continues to draw new orders and is sold out for 2013, according to Sikorsky officials. The D model includes numerous upgrades over its predecessor S-76C++, including upgraded Pratt & Whitney PW210S engines generating 1,077 shaft horsepower each. Additional new standard features include a health and usage monitoring system (HUMS), active vibration control, and composite tail rotor blade and improved composite main rotor blades. In the integrated cockpit, dual flight management systems, and autopilots are standard along with a flight director. Thanks to the improvements, the D model is nearly 20 knots faster at 154 KTAS than the C models.
The first D model to go into service later this year will join some 706 S-76s built since the model’s first flight in 1977. The popular corporate and special mission helicopter has flown more than 6.2 million hours.
The fleet of 170 S-92s has flown more than 500,000 hours since it was introduced in 2004. About 65 percent of the fleet is used for offshore energy exploration; another 25 percent goes to work in search and rescue operations.
The S-92 has been pivotal in Sikorsky’s development of rig approaches in conjunction with operator PHI and the FAA. Sikorsky has shown that it can do auto flight to within an eighth of a mile of an oil rig, descending out of the clouds at only 30 knots. The company will demonstrate the capability to the FAA in late March and hopes to have the system certified for use within a year to half-mile minimums. Later they will work with the FAA to lower the minimums to a third of a mile and ultimately to a quarter mile. While an eighth of a mile has been demonstrated safely hundreds of times, company officials say it will be some time before they attempt to certify the system to such low minimums.
In another innovation, Sikorsky has used its HUMS technology to demonstrate that the life of its highly expensive titanium rotor hubs on the S-92s can be extended 50 percent from the original 4,900 hours to 7,300 hours. HUMS records vibration and other data that through analysis can show any changing trends on key components, predicting failures and, in this case, allowing for life extensions.
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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