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VIH Aviation Group has been named the launch customer for Sikorsky’s S-92A+ upgrade kit. The kit features an enhanced main gearbox, but VIH’s upgrade will not include the OEM’s Matrix autonomous technology, which had been one of the most eye-catching elements of the kit when it was announced by Sikorsky just over a year ago.
Four S-92A+ kits have been ordered by VIH for its subsidiary Cougar Helicopters, based in St. John’s, Newfoundland, which flies the S-92 for transport to offshore oil rigs and platforms and search-and-rescue (SAR) operations. Cougar is due to receive the first of the kits in 2023.
“VIH Aviation Group Ltd. is pleased to be the lead customer for the Sikorsky S-92A+ kit,” said Ken Norie, president and owner of VIH Aviation Group Ltd. “This kit will improve our S-92 fleet’s performance and capacity.”
Sikorsky commercial systems and services vice president Audrey Brady said the upgrade program demonstrates the company’s commitment to its commercial business. “This program will enhance safety and lower operating costs, and we are honored to work with VIH as our launch customer for this program,” she said.
The Phase IV main gearbox included as part of the kits has demonstrated extensive run-dry capability, exceeding CFR 29.927(c) requirements to provide a return-to-base capability of more than 400 nautical miles.
In testing at Sikorsky’s facility, the aluminum gearbox ran 14 cycles of simulated takeoffs, cruise flights, hovers, and landings over 7.5 hours without primary lube oil. The gearbox was still running properly at this stage, said Brady, but the aircraft in such a scenario would have already run out of gas.
The kit also includes Sikorsky’s S-92 gross weight expansion, which takes the type’s max gross weight to 27,700 pounds (12,565 kilograms), and had been available as an option and retrofittable kit.
Finally, the kit also includes LifePlus, which uses HUMS data to improve component life, thereby reducing maintenance costs.
Sikorsky announced the S-92A+ upgrade just over a year ago at Helicopter Association International (HAI) Heli-Expo 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia, along with an upgraded production model of the type – known as the S-92B. Both upgrades will have the General Electric CT7-8A6 also offered as an option, for enhanced performance in hot and high conditions.
In addition to the elements contained in the S-92A+ kit, the S-92B will have enlarged cabin windows and a new cabin door that will be suitable for both offshore transport and SAR operations.
However, the kit will not have the much-hyped Matrix autonomous technology for the launch with VIH. The technology continues its development, and will ultimately be part of the upgrade in the form of Rig Approach 2.0 and SuperSearch.
Rig Approach 2.0 is an evolution of the existing Rig Approach system used in the current S-92, which allows a crew to plan and program their offshore mission and destination before they take off, with the aircraft then flying that mission profile up to a half mile from a helideck. With Rig Approach 2.0, the aircraft will be certified to fly to within a quarter mile of the helideck.
SuperSearch is an algorithm for the SAR configuration of the S-92 that works in tandem with the aircraft’s automatic flight control system (AFCS) to find objects up to 30 percent faster than possible with conventional search patterns.
“The future evolution [of Matrix technology] will also add additional computing power that will integrate even more options, reducing pilot workload,” said Brady.
Brady said Sikorsky has had “an overwhelming response” since announcing the upgrade last year.
“We really focused on capability, reliability, and cost reduction,” said Brady. “In this competitive market for [operators], [Sikorsky is] improving on what we already know and reducing their direct operating costs.”
Heavy-lift aircraft have had to endure a particularly difficult last few years, thanks to a historic downturn in the oil-and-gas market, and the recent impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in further turmoil in the offshore industry.
“We’re still talking to not only our operator customers, but also their customers, and this is a difficult time in the market,” said Brady. “A lot of their capital expenditures for this year have been have been stopped, and they’re looking more at the long term.”
The S-92B isn’t set for a near-term arrival in the market, with Sikorsky now projecting the variant won’t begin rolling off the production line until 2025.
This article was corrected on April 27 to show that the upgrades ordered by VIH will not include the Matrix autonomy technology. An earlier version incorrectly stated that VIH’s aircraft would receive this.