Helicopter capability - Defence Committee Contents

Memorandum from Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation


  1.  Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation is a recognized world leader in helicopter design, manufacture and support. The company's military products include the BLACK HAWK and SEAHAWKTM helicopters, as well as the CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter. Sikorsky also is producing militarized versions of its commercial S-92TM helicopter that today are performing search and rescue missions for the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency and transporting the Heads of State of a half-dozen nations. The United Kingdom Royal Travel Office has operated a VIP Sikorsky S-76+ for the last ten years and in November 2007, The Royal Household again selected Sikorsky as Preferred Supplier for the Royal Family helicopter with the selection of a new delivery Sikorsky S-76C++ which is scheduled to enter service in the 3rd Quarter of 2009.

  2.  Additionally, Sikorsky is preparing to launch a new BLACK HAWK variant specially configured for international markets. Sikorsky's factory in Mielec, Poland, will manufacture this aircraft, the S-70i. Worldwide, Sikorsky employs 15,000 people, and its aftermarket business, Sikorsky Aerospace Services, operates globally to maintain both rotary and fixed wing aircraft.

  3.  Sikorsky is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation (UTC), which is the 39th largest manufacturer in the U.S. and the 59th largest publicly held manufacturer in the world. Its other subsidiaries include Otis Elevator; Carrier Corporation, maker of air-conditioning and heating systems; UTC Fire & Security, which includes the U.K.-born Chubb and Kidde products; Pratt & Whitney, maker of aerospace propulsion systems; and Hamilton Sundstrand, maker of aerospace systems. UTC recently was named as Fortune Magazine's "Most Admired Aerospace and Defense Company."

  4.  Sikorsky was founded in 1923 as the Aero Engineering Corporation by aerospace pioneer and legend Igor Sikorsky. The company was acquired in 1929 by the United Aircraft and Transportation Corporation, which later became United Technologies Corporation.


  5.  Today's modern military helicopter evolved in part as a result of Sikorsky's and the UK armed forces' joint experiences. At key periods in aviation history, the two entities' paths intersected, benefiting both, as well as the entire aerospace world.

    (i) In January 1945, The Helicopter Training School was opened at RAF Andover base. This also was Europe's first helicopter flight training school. The aircraft used to train Royal Air Force pilots was the Sikorsky R-4, which in 1943 had become the world's first production helicopter. The R-4, designated as the Hoverfly I in the U.K., is credited with training the first British and American military pilots.

    (ii) The RAF realized the R-4's potential quickly and helped bring it to the attention of the U.S. military. Only after the British had ordered well over 100 R-4 helicopters did the U.S. armed forces follow suit.

    (iii) The R-4 performed the world's first military combat rescue mission, in 1944. An American crew rescued a team of downed British personnel behind enemy lines in Burma. The R-4 and the Sikorsky R-6 would become the only helicopters used in World War II.

    (iv) Sikorsky continued to refine the R-4 and developed the S-51, which in 1947 became the first helicopter in U.S. Navy history to perform a rescue. Sikorsky licensed the U.K.'s Westland company to build the S-51, helping to position Westland as the leader in British helicopter development. In December 1948, the first Westland-Sikorsky WS-51 successfully completed its inaugural flight. Westland then produced the Dragonfly HR.1 helicopter used by the Royal Navy's first operational helicopter squadron. Westland also produced several variants including the Dragonfly HC.2 medical evacuation helicopter, all based on the Sikorsky designs.

    (v) In 1952, the Sikorsky S-55 established a world record by becoming the first helicopter to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Sikorsky in 1950 licensed Westland to build this aircraft, which in the U.K. was designated the WS-55 Whirlwind and served the RAF, the Royal Navy, and the Queen's Flight.

    (vi) In 1958, Sikorsky's S-58 became the first helicopter developed for a U.S. President, Dwight Eisenhower. Westland was granted a license to produce this aircraft as well, calling it the Wessex. The U.K helicopter's missions included serving the Royal Marine Commandos.

    (vii) Sikorsky later produced the S-61, which was the world's first helicopter that could both hunt and destroy submarines. In 1962, the S-61 set a helicopter speed record of 210 mph. This was the first time a helicopter had flown faster than 200 mph on an established course. Sikorsky licensed this technology to Westland in 1969, which resulted in production of the Sea King fleet used by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force for search and rescue, anti-submarine warfare, and troop transport missions.

    (viii) Four S-92TM helicopters are currently performing search and rescue missions for the Maritime and Coastguard agency as part of Interim SAR, the final stages of which are to be adjudicated later this year.

  6.  Sikorsky believes these commonalities provide a strong understanding of the U.K.'s military helicopter capabilities—past, present and future.


  7.  With today's global war on terrorism, high value is placed on helicopter capabilities that provide mission flexibility, effective tactical response, multi-climate operability, supportability, and economic value, all in a single platform.

  8.  Conflicts can spark up in any of the world's troubled spots and escalate into regional, continental and global crises, a possibility recognized by virtually every government today and consistent with the fundamental planning outlined in the newly updated U.K. Strategy for Countering International Terrorism (March 2009) as well as the U.K's counter-insurgency strategies.

  9.  Additionally, counter-insurgency wars such as in Afghanistan are likely to become prolonged and resource-consuming, which means helicopters must meet demanding standards for durability and reliability. Thus, platforms best-suited to serve today's military needs are those with:

    (a) Multi-mission capability: Able to deliver troops and supplies in diverse geographies and climates, to perform in combat, search and rescue, and Special Operations missions, and to support the "hearts and minds" operations vital to counter-insurgency success, such as delivering medical supplies and food to indigenous populations.

    (b) Interoperability: Able to communicate and team with other friendly nations' aircraft in joint operations. Multi-government military and intelligence alliances are vital to combating terrorism. As stated in the U.K.'s updated Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, "We recognize that partnerships in this country and overseas are essential to our success …"

    (c) Proven ability to perform in many climates, with high availability, survivability, and reliability


  10.  History shows that military capability standards must rise, necessarily and continually, as threats become more lethal. The growing threat of insurgents obtaining chemical, biological or nuclear weapons is often cited as tomorrow's greatest risk.

  11.  Future helicopter capability must provide for operability in the most extreme situations, as well as magnify all current capability for maneuver, speed, stealth, weapons delivery and survivability. Near-term future technologies that will enable this include:

    (a) Full, fly-by-wire control and pilot training to use it to maximum advantage

    (b) Safer, all weather operating systems for extreme environments ranging from deserts, where brownouts now present serious risk to aircraft upon landing, to frigid terrains where rotor icing and other complications pose high danger.

    (c) Much greater speed for increased strike force effectiveness, survivability and rapid reaction

    (d) Aircraft control systems that require less human involvement. Aircraft that can be flown with equal effectiveness by one crew member versus several, as conditions require, will enable greater human focus on the actual mission versus on flying the helicopter.

  12.  Longer-term future capabilities should include:

    (a) Systems and components that automatically adjust to changing conditions without any need for human intervention

    (b) Aircraft that are completely "self-actualized," meaning they can complete missions without any onboard crew, while making any course adjustments and taking any defensive or offensive measures that are necessary to accomplish the mission.

6 April 2009

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