Carson switches blades to give S-61 more moxie

 - January 4, 2008, 5:22 AM

Carson Helicopters of Perkasie, Pa., has been granted FAA certification for new main rotor blades for the Sikorsky S-61. The design incorporates two airfoils and 12 degrees of twist, giving the venerable Sikorsky workhorse 2,000 pounds more lift in a hover and adding 15 knots to the cruise speed compared with the standard metal blades at the same power settings. Carson has signed a contract with NASA for exclusive use of the airfoils.

In fact, Carson is so confident in the pent-up demand for the blades from both civil and military users of the S-61 that it has already contracted with Composite Structures of Monrovia, Calif., for an initial batch of 100 blades.

Frank Carson, owner and CEO of the company that bears his name, said the blades would be available commercially by the end of this year. He estimated the price for a set of five blades at $1.1 million, but said he plans to make the blades available to other commercial operators at an as yet undetermined hourly rate.

Still in the works are new tail-rotor blades based on the same airfoil design, which Carson expects to have flying by the end of the year. These, he said, will provide the aircraft with an extra 400 pounds of lift in a hover. The company is also working with Boundary Layer Research to develop tailboom strakes for the S-61. And Carson is also researching a main landing gear modification, which would replace the S-61’s double wheels with a Black Hawk-like single wheel and a narrower sponson to reduce drag, as well as an engine upgrade to give the aircraft more power.

Carson Helicopters operates an FAA-approved maintenance facility for all S-61 models and holds several approved modifications for the S-61A and -N. Employing some 250 people, it is involved in logging, construction and airborne geophysical mapping.