Turkey deal is big boost for Sikorsky
Jon Lake looks at the Sikorsky S-70i helicopter as it continues to make inroads in the Middle East region.
Once known as the International Black Hawk, Sikorsky’s S-70i offers customers an alternative to the current US Army specification UH-60M Black Hawk.
The aircraft is more ‘customisable’ than the standard UH-60, and is available through direct commercial sale rather than the US Government’s more cumbersome and time consuming foreign military sales (FMS) route.
Lockheed Martin, which now owns Sikorsky, proudly boasted that the time from contract to delivery using the direct commercial sale avenue could be less than 12 months, whereas the FMS route would take much longer.
The Sikorsky-owned PZL Mielec factory in Poland has been involved in S-70 production since 2007, and provides 40% of the aerostructures for the UH-60M. But, while Sikorsky’s ‘main’ Stratford factory takes these sub assemblies and components and builds them into UH-60Ms, some remain at Mielec to become fully European-assembled S-70i helicopters.
The first S-70i built by PZL-Mielec (N4905N, S/N 0001) was shipped to Hartford, Connecticut, for final assembly and made its maiden flight at Sikorsky’s development flight centre at West Palm Beach on July 1 2010. The aircraft was virtually identical to the UH-60M, apart from some radios and avionics that were not ‘exportable’.
The first production S-70i (SP-YVA, S/N 002) underwent final assembly and flight-testing in Poland, and made its maiden flight on November 15 2010.
PZL Mielec delivered the first three aircraft to its first, still officially unidentified customer (the Saudi Ministry of the Interior) in August 2011. They were airfreighted from Poland’s Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport on an Antonov An-124 Ruslan cargo aircraft after a week of acceptance flying in Poland. Secrecy surrounding the deal was imposed belatedly, after Sikorsky had issued a July 2010 press release stating that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) has become the launch customer for the new S-70i.”
The aircraft were assigned to the General Civil Defence Agency (GCDA) – the paramilitary wing of the Ministry of Interior – and were used for police support, search and rescue and fire-fighting duties, including providing helicopter support to Saudi counter terrorism forces.
Together with a larger number of S-92s, they have replaced the Kawasaki Vertol KV-107 helicopters previously used by the GCDA.
During the Islamic Year 1433 (November 2011-November 2012) the Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Naif, issued a directive changing the name of Civil Defence Aviation to Security Aviation, and the following year the General Command of Security Aviation was established as a separate body.
The S-70i helicopters are based at Abha in southeast Saudi Arabia, close to the Yemeni border, one of four air bases used by the force.
At the UK’s Farnborough International Airshow, Lockheed Martin sources reported that the Saudi Ministry of the Interior had now received five S-70i helicopters, and that discussions were on-going for a further batch, with the possibility of these being assembled in-kingdom, following the signing of an agreement between Lockheed Martin and Taqnia Aeronautics to ‘jointly explore helicopter production opportunities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’.
PZL-Mielec has now built 37 S-70i helicopters, and these have been exported to Brunei (8), Colombia (10), and Mexico (1), as well as to Saudi Arabia and to the Polis Havacilik Daire Baskanligi (Turkish National Police).
There have also been recent completions for as-yet undisclosed customers, and there are active campaigns in progress on every continent.
The Turkish National Police took delivery of four aircraft in early 2014, but these will be followed by a much larger number of locally produced S-70i helicopters under the Turkish utility helicopter programme (TUHP).
This will see Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) licence-building a total of up to 300 T70 helicopters (109 is the baseline quantity, with 191 options) to the Turkish land forces, air force, gendarme, special forces, national police, and the Directorate General of Forestry.
PZL will manufacture the first five cabin structures for TAI’s first five T70s, and has provided the 37th S-70i to serve as the T70 prototype.
Sikorsky accepted the TUHP prototype aircraft during a ceremony on June 22 in an event attended by senior leaders from the key programme stakeholders, including the Turkish Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM), TAI, Aselsan and Alp Aviation. Sikorsky will expand the manufacturing capability of Alp Aviation, which is 50% owned by the US company.
The TUHP prototype was fitted with a rescue hoist, internal auxiliary fuel tank, cargo hook, integrated vehicle health management system, a blade de-icing system, and a rotor brake. However, it was not armed.
Aselsan will develop a new cockpit avionics system for the T-70 aircraft, and the TUHP prototype will be flown to Ankara, where it will become the engineering development test bed for the new avionics suite, having its existing Rockwell Collins cockpit stripped out. Sikorsky and Aselsan will integrate, flight-test and qualify the avionics suite on the aircraft before full production begins.
The first fully Turkish-built T70 aircraft will be certified and delivered to the Turkish Government in 2021.
At Farnborough this year, Lockheed Martin showed off a heavily armed S-70i, but the aircraft is offered in armed and unarmed configurations, and can be offered with unique communications, or with specific equipment removed or added. The Saudi Ministry of the Interior aircraft, for example, were delivered without blade de-icing equipment.
Although the S-70i can represent a more affordable way of procuring a Black Hawk, Sikorsky is increasingly turning its attention towards an armed and missionized aircraft, in which any cost-differential tends to be negated by the extra equipment and capability.
The S-70i is, thus, being offered with what looks very much like the second ‘level’ of the previously marketed three-tier ‘Battlehawk’ system. There is no provision for the belly-mounted 20mm gun turret that characterised the ‘Level 3’ Battlehawk, but there could be provision for an under-nose surveillance/targeting sensor (the aircraft shown at Farnborough had Lockheed Martin’s 15inch INFIRNO turret), a 300kg capacity rescue hoist, retractable fast-roping systems, and the stub wings of the external stores support system (ESSS), which can carry crashworthy external fuel system (CEFS) tanks or 10,000lb (4,500kg) of armament including rockets, gun pods or guided weapons, including laser-guided rockets or anti-tank guided missiles, with crew-served guns in the cabin doors.
Up to four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles could be carried on each of the four ESSS hardpoints, or seven or 19-round Hydra or DAGR rocket pods.
Gun options include the Dillon M134D 7.62mm minigun, with 4,000 rounds, a GAU-19 GECAL 50 0.50 calibre Gatling gun, with 1,400 rounds, or a podded FN Herstal M3M (GAU-21) 0.50 calibre cannon, with 400 rounds. Another option is an FN 0.50 calibre pod with 250 rounds and three unguided rockets.
Ten soldiers could still be carried (depending on the weight of the weapons) or a 200 US gallon auxiliary tank, giving 150km extra range, could be fitted in the cabin.
The S-70i’s weapons capability was developed as a Sikorsky initiative, without US Government guidance. The intention was to extend the functionality of the existing Blackhawk, and not to build a dedicated gunship.
Running alongside the S-70i manufacturing programme, Sikorsky also offers comprehensive support, and training. An initial class of pilots and maintainers from Brunei graduated from the Sikorsky Training Academy in Stuart, Florida, in February 2014, after using the company’s new high-quality, customised classroom facilities and simulator, and after receiving hands-on aircraft instruction using a newly purchased S-70i that was procured exclusively for customer training purposes.