Although the Sikorsky S-76D is running behind its previously projected certification date of June 2012, the manufacturer reports that the aircraft is now in the final stages of United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification, with a type certificate now expected in October of this year.
Were converging quickly on all of the requirements for certification in the October time frame, Dan Hunter, Sikorsky director of commercial programs, told Vertical. Were getting really excited about how close we are to certification, and were really, really encouraged by the level of interest [in the aircraft] that were seeing from our customers.
Hunter said Sikorsky now has five S-76D prototypes in flight testing: three at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., and two at its facility in Coatesville, Pa. As of mid-July, the fleet had accumulated more than 900 flight hours, with fewer than 150 more flight hours still expected before the S-76D attains certification. According to Hunter, all aircraft performance flight tests are now complete, as are flight tests for the helicopters 1,077-shaft-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210S engines. Remaining to be accomplished are some avionics and electrical flight tests, and functional and reliability testing.
Hunter said the programs several-month delay was the result of a decision to reinforce the airframe structure to improve its longevity. What happened was that, in the second quarter, we realized it was going to be necessary to make some improvements to the airframe structure, he said, explaining that a careful review of initial flight test data indicated that some of the loads were not what we were expecting. He emphasized, however, that this was a lifespan rather than a safety concern, and that the resulting alterations have no effect on the performance or functionality previously reported in Verticals flight test (see p.68, Feb-Mar 2012).
According to Hunter, the number of firm contracts for the S-76D is in the high teens, not including deposits and position agreements. Sikorsky will deliver green aircraft to the first customers immediately following FAA certification, then will proceed to complete them according to customer specifications.
Sikorsky expects additional certifications, including from Transport Canada and the European Aviation Safety Agency, soon after FAA approval. The company will also work to certify a number of upgrades for the S-76D after the initial airframe certification.
Since one of the S-76Ds early customers is the Japanese coast guard, a top priority will be the certification of search-and-rescue (SAR) autopilot functions: Were locked and loaded to certify those SAR functions in Q2 or maybe Q3 of 2013, said Hunter. Certification for a number of avionics software upgrades is expected in the same time frame, while the company expects to complete flight-testing for a rotor ice protection system in winter 2013-14.
Hunter said that Sikorsky has already been conducting customer demonstration flights that have yielded excellent reviews. [The S-76] is a known and trusted model, and when people see the improvements weve made to it, they get really excited.