In Praise of the S-61N

 - September 19, 2006, 12:49 PM

With North Sea competition investing in the EC 225, Super Puma Mk 2 and S-92, is there still a role for the Sikorsky S-61N? The workhorse has been providing sterling service for more than 40 years, but the oil majors regard it–as a people-carrier at least–as obsolescent hardware.

Tony Jones said there is no customer pressure for his company to upgrade at the moment. “We use the helicopter in lots of different jobs, and in some–the Penzance-Scilly Islands schedule, for example–there is still nothing to touch it apart from the as yet uncertified (in the UK anyway) EH 101. That would be four times as expensive to buy and operate, and our passengers would not accept the increased fares that would follow. The baggage compartment is not huge, either.

“The S-61 is also rugged enough to do what the military wants in the Falkland Islands, for example. The Royal Air Force’s nosewheel Puma would be too top-heavy for the sloping-ground landings it is routinely asked to do, which is why the RAF does not use its own helicopters down there.

“For this job, which in the early days will require us to hump and dump drilling support equipment to the field, we need a utility loadlifter. When it comes to moving lots of people in an efficient way, the Super Puma comes into its own.”

With the improvements that Carson Helicopters is currently making to the helicopter–main rotor blades, tail rotor arrangement and so on–the old Sikorsky might be about to enjoy a new lease on life. “We are very interested in what Frank Carson is doing out there, and now that he has a route into Europe via the British Royal Navy (which wants to upgrade its [S-61-based] Westland Sea Kings), the new components should be easier for us to procure.”