Sikorsky launched two new variants of its S-92 heavy twin on Tuesday morning at Heli-Expo 2019—the S-92A+, an upgrade package for in-service S-92s, and new-production S-92B. Both promise better operating costs and greater reliability and mission flexibility, the Lockheed Martin subsidiary said.
“Our S-92 has set the standard for modern helicopters, and we’re excited with these changes that will ensure it remains so,” said Audrey Brady, Sikorsky v-p of commercial systems and services. “Reliability means safety. Reliability means economics. With these updates and an unmatched cabin size and capacity, our customers will see an economic benefit demonstrating that the S-92 is the best choice in helicopter missions near or far.”
These updates will include new flight computing technology and main gearbox, as well as an interior common to search and rescue (SAR) and offshore operations and optional engine that improves in hot-and-high performance. The only differences between the variants will be found on the S-92B, which will have larger cabin windows, a common cabin door for offshore and SAR missions and titanium side frames for a stronger airframe.
Both types will share Sikorsky’s phase one Matrix advanced flight computing hardware and software. The Matrix platform enables other new Sikorsky technology such as Rig Approach 2.0 and SuperSearch. For offshore missions, Rig Approach permits the helicopter to fly a mission profile to within a quarter mile of the heli-deck on an oil rig. David Martin, v-p oil and gas, told AIN that Rig Approach is on a development path “that ultimately could result in technology that allows automated landing on the heli-decks, regardless of weather situations offshore.”
SuperSearch, on the other hand, uses advanced algorithms designed by Sikorsky Innovations Group to fly an automated search pattern. “In simulations, it has been finding and locating objects 50 percent faster than traditional search patterns,” Martin said. Both variants also will have SAR automated flight control systems and a newly designed interior that will be common to SAR, offshore, and utility operations.
Also included with the new variants is a Phase IV gearbox constructed of aluminum, which Martin said is stronger and more resistant to corrosion than the magnesium gearboxes found on the original S-92s. It will also include manufacturing improvements to the internal mechanics that are expected to reduce unscheduled removals by up to 70 percent. “So those are big drivers in the operating costs of the S-92 that we’re going to be able to reduce or eliminate,” Martin said.
The new gearbox also has a redesigned lubrication system. In FAA-witnessed testing of the new gearbox for loss of primary lubrication, the gearbox was operated for 500 nm at 80 knots and had no noted anomalies after tear down. Finally, the new gearbox’s overhaul cycle and case retirement life now match, “allowing, again, another cost reduction in the operating cost of the aircraft,” Martin said.
Meanwhile, the optional GE Aviation CT7-8A6 for the A+ and B variants will produce more power at high altitudes and hotter temperatures than the standard CT7-8A. This engine model was developed for the VH-92A, the S-92 variant that will be flown by the U.S. Marine Corps for Presidential transport starting later next year. The VH-92A has been flying with the CT7-8A6 since July 2017.
Sikorsky isn’t disclosing a price for the A+ upgrades or the new-production B model, though it said the latter is expected to be below historical S-92 prices. The company currently plans initial availability of the variants for 2022. “Sikorsky has significantly invested to bring these capabilities into production, but will let market interest determine the pace of remaining internal research and development spending,” it added. Concurrent with the rollout of the variants, Sikorsky will introduce an updated Total Assurance Program (TAP) that it said will reflect “a targeted economic improvement.”
Martin said it was time for an update of the S-92, of which Sikorsky has delivered more than 300 since the model’s first delivery in 2004 to PHI.
Of that total, about two-thirds are dedicated to offshore operations, while another 40 are primarily SAR with some use as offshore transportation, he said. The helicopter also has a “pretty robust segment” as head-of-state aircraft. “One of the things you’re going to see from us at HAI [Heli-Expo] is a focus going forward on the utility market as well,” Martin said. “We think the aircraft has a unique capability with a rear ramp and standup cabin for a utility segment.” He defined the utility segment as the transport of cargo, people, and assets into remote environments.
Martin said despite the oil and gas industry downturn that began in 2014, idling hundreds of helicopters, utilization of the S-92 offshore fleet has remained “relatively stable and flat.” Last year the S-92 saw 7 percent growth in fleet flight hours in the offshore segment, he added. “Sikorsky’s kind of kept their powder dry and trusted in the S-92. But we think now is the right time to bring these to market.”