Sikorsky Puts S-76D On Ice, Seeks License Production Partner

Sikorsky S-76 helicopter
Credit: Sikorsky Archives

DALLAS—Amid lackluster sales and costly new certification requirements, Sikorsky is no longer accepting orders for the S-76D, effectively shutting down the 45-year-old medium helicopter program.

At the same time, Sikorsky is evaluating potential partnerships to set up license production overseas. Announcing the move at the Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo 2022 in Dallas, Jason Lambert, Sikorsky vice president for Global Military and Commercial Systems, said, “We’re currently assessing partnerships with international companies to continue the legacy of the aircraft platform.

“Although we currently have in production in Oswego, New York, one VIP and two search-and-rescues configured as S-76Ds, we’re not currently taking orders for new S-76Ds at this time,” Lambert said. “With that though, we remain committed to our customers and operators through our aftermarket and sustainment services.”

While describing the S-76D as a “phenomenal performer in a niche market,” Lambert said the aircraft has not stood up to the competition as well as the company hoped. In addition, he noted that “we received a ruling from the FAA that essentially said that any aircraft that had a certificate of airworthiness applied after April 2020 had to have a crashworthy fuel tank system. Now the 76’s safety record is incredibly strong. We’ve got over 800 aircraft out there that have been delivered. But the business case to put a crashworthy fuel system on that particular aircraft, frankly, with the demand we were seeing, didn’t justify the investment.”

Lambert added high manufacturing and supply-chain costs associated with the S-76D also were key factors. “It’s a hard product for us to build and deliver profitably,” he said. “With that, we still see a future in the platform. We know there’s global customer demand for the platform, and so we’re talking to international partners about licensing opportunities where we would license IP and we would provide technical assistance and support for the international party to do the production and manufacturing.”

The S-76 first flew in 1977 and entered service in 1979. More than 800 have been sold across several variants, the latest of which was the reengined S-76D. Deliveries started in 2013, although sales never matched expectations, the company said. “I don’t think we . . . can say we achieved what we desired with the strategy we set out for the S-76D,” Lambert explained.

Although S-76 spares continue to be produced at Sikorsky’s Stratford, Connecticut, plant, the slow commercial market forced the company to close the S-76D and S-92A final-assembly facility at Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in 2021. The Lockheed Martin-owned helicopter maker is reviewing options for setting up a new production site for the S-92, according to Paul Lemmo, the company president.

Meanwhile, Sikorsky is vowing to continue support and future development of the larger S-92, including certification of the S-92A+ upgrade kit with a gearbox with a secondary lubrication system that was announced at HeliExpo in 2020.  

“Quite honestly we haven’t seen the demand signal that we have hoped for,” Lambert said. “We do continue to invest in new-product performance and safety enhancements, including the S-92A+ kit, which we plan to offer as either a modification kit or available on new aircraft. The A-plus certification is projected to be complete in 2025 with the next position agreements available in 2026. While the A-plus certification is in work, Sikorsky will continue—and does continue—to take orders for the S-92A helicopter.” A further conceptual upgrade version is still under study, Lambert said. 

Sikorsky also is working to boost S-92 market prospects fby cutting costs and improving support services. “We recognize the cost of the S-92 is a challenge for our customers, and we’re actively working on efforts to provide a more economical level of support,” Lambert said. “Through bringing the commercial international and military businesses together, we gain synergies in that space in terms of how we service and how we execute our sustainment services for the marketplace, and that has helped us from a cost perspective.”

In other areas, Sikorsky hopes more dramatic savings might be possible through the use of autonomy developed under the Matrix Technology program that was launched in 2013. Proven on a recent test involving Sikorsky’s modified S-70A optionally piloted vehicle at the U.S. Army’s base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the system is designed to assist two pilots on a demanding mission, act as a digital copilot for a single pilot or fly the aircraft with no crew onboard.

“It’s not ready for prime time today in terms of fielding or certification but we’re actively working on it,” Lambert said. “We’re actually working with a commercial customer on certification of single-pilot operation. Being able to have the autonomy or flexibility to fly with one pilot is a step-change in the cost structure. This is the type of technology that if it went in the S-92, can be pretty game-changing from an operator’s perspective.”

The company also is targeting manufacturing and supply-chain costs. “We’re actively looking across our Lockheed network, but it’s also our supply chain,” Lambert says. “We’re looking at the partners that we currently have as well as ones that we could look at on a go-forward basis and where we might have some cost opportunities. So we’re actively evaluating, and that’s where I think we’ll get the savings from.”

Guy Norris

Guy is a Senior Editor for Aviation Week, covering technology and propulsion. He is based in Colorado Springs.