Providing proof that persistence pays off, Sikorsky Aircraft received in the week before Christmas a most welcome present: type certification of its S-92 medium-twin transport helicopter (initially limited to VFR operations).
The certification represents several milestones. First, it serves as the culmination of a 10-year, accident-free development program. Second, it represents only the second time in Sikorsky history that the company won FAA certification for a new product before it was accepted by the U.S. military.
As certified, the S-92 complies with FAR Part 29 airline transport Amendment 45, the most rigorous requirements a civil helicopter has yet had to meet. Some 1,570 flight test hours were required to comply with the FAA’s demand.
“This is like graduating and passing the bar exam all at once,” said enthused program director Nick Lappos. “The Sikorsky team deserves our highest compliments,” Bob Mann, manager of the FAA’s Boston aircraft certification office, said, “They conducted an impressive and safe program.”
An evolution of Sikorsky’s Black Hawk and Seahawk military workhorses, the S-92 went through a number of major changes in its four-year flight-test program (in an odd piece of unplanned symmetry, both the beginning and conclusion, respectively, of the helicopter’s flight-test program came just a few days before Christmas).
Additional cabin space, more floor space and a general fuselage enlargement resulted from a 16-in. extension in cabin length. The main cabin door was enlarged upon input from potential customers. Customer preference was also the price-driver for rejection of what was to have been a cockpit avionics installation by Rogerson-Kratos, only to be replaced by an avionics integration management system developed by Rockwell Collins.
Sales of a $15.5 million helicopter (as equipped in a 19-passenger North Sea-style crew configuration) are never easy, especially in today’s economy. Claims and counterclaims have raged within the industry for some time disputing Sikorsky’s hard S-92 sales figures. Sikorsky claims to have 16 S-92s spoken for, with deposits of various sorts, and options for four more. First production aircraft will be delivered to the launch customer (name as yet undisclosed) in early 2004. Sikorsky is standing by its estimated direct maintenance cost of $850 per hour, or $1,250 per hour with fuel factored in. “This gives the S-92 a $200-per-hour edge over Eurocopter’s Super Puma and a PMC some $500 less than EH Industries EH 101,” said Lappos.
Further tests and subsequent certifications into early 2004 will boost the S-92’s approved capabilities to include flight into known icing and IFR flight. The added capabilities will be approved before commercial deliveries begin. FlightSafety International (FSI) is currently assembling a level-D simulator that will begin training new S-92 pilots at FSI’s West Palm Beach, Fla. facility in the middle of this year.