Since it was first introduced in the late 1970s, the Sikorsky S-76 has been a mainstay among corporate VIP helicopter operators, one of the most popular midsize executive rotary-wing transports. Sikorsky has now continued that tradition with introduction of the S-76D, the eighth rendition of the line that comprises the S-76A, A+, A++, B, C, C+ and C++.

First flown in March 1977 and with deliveries of the twin beginning two years later, the more than 800 S-76s put into service have collectively accumulated over 6.2 million hr. There are still more than 680 of the type operating in 42 countries around the world.

While the largest group of users, accounting for 430 aircraft, is the offshore oil industry, the second largest block of aircraft is devoted to executive transport and numbers more than 180 aircraft so far, logging in excess of 630,000 flight hours. Other markets primarily targeted by Sikorsky for the S-76 are emergency medical service (EMS) providers and search and rescue (SAR) units.

Those four groups are already welcoming the S-76D, with orders already placed by the Japan Coast Guard for SAR operations and the Chinese Ruili Jingcheng Group for aircraft configured for airline use. The Chinese company is expanding into the aviation sector through three aviation subsidiaries, including a helicopter operating company. Sikorsky also noted that along with the S-76D, Ruili Jingcheng ordered the larger S-92 for its airline.

A number of VIP executive transport aircraft have been ordered, and Sikorsky “is close to an EMS order,” according to Dan Hunter, Sikorsky's director of programs. There are also discussions with both Mexican and Chinese oil companies, he added, “and we're hoping for a U.S. fleet operator.”

Production of the S-76C++ ended in 2012, and first deliveries of the D model are scheduled for later this year. Sikorsky quotes a base price of around $12 million and up, depending on factors such as configuration, interiors, options and number purchased. This compares to $10.2 million to $10.4 million for a very, very new C++ and $8.5 million to $9 million for a midlife C++, according to Sharon Desfor, president of HeliValue$ Inc., the Blue Book of the helicopter industry.

The new model received FAA certification on Oct. 12, 2012, and is programmed to get Canadian Transport certification in April, followed by EASA and Japanese certification in May. Brazilian certification is expected in the October/November time frame.