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The United Rotorcraft you see today was created in 2011 when Air Methods bought United Rotorcraft Solutions and merged that company with its own well-respected Products Division.
The new entity gained the United Rotorcraft name and the combined strengths of two broadly capable aircraft experts. In some ways, though, that merger may have covered up the long and successful history of Air Methods’ Products Division.
However, with operators like the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) having recently awarded major completion contracts to United Rotorcraft, that history has gained new recognition. And, its current strengths are shining even brighter.
Vertically integrated foundation
Air Methods’ Products Division started making a name for itself in multi-mission military and civilian solutions shortly after it was formed. In the mid-1990s, it began working with the United States Army, designing and providing medical mission capabilities for Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters and Stryker ground vehicles.
“The kits we provided expanded the multi-mission capabilities of both these vehicles,” said Bob Brodin, director of government programs.
The late 1990s and early 2000s saw growth and recognition on the civilian side of the helicopter industry. In particular, it won a major contract from LACoFD to turn three Sikorsky Black Hawks into multi-mission
Since that time, United Rotorcraft has continued to expand its capabilities. Now, it possesses a level of vertical integration that allows it to be a comprehensive single solution for customers who previously had to utilize multiple suppliers to get everything they needed.
“A good example of that comes from our partnership with BAE Systems,” said Brodin. “Before we started working with them on the new medevac interiors for their armored ground vehicles, we had them in to talk to Air Methods’ CEO. The BAE reps told him they looked at numerous companies, but when they discovered United Rotorcraft’s capabilities, they knew they could get everything they needed–the design, engineering, qualification, manufacturing and product support–from us, instead of the four different companies they were looking at.”
Even with all of its extensive capabilities, what United Rotorcraft sees as its biggest differentiator is that it listens to its customers.
“That’s what makes us unique,” said United Rotorcraft president Mike Slattery. “We listen to the customer and give them what they need. We don’t just sell a product, we sell a solution.”
Closely connected to that ability is another key differentiator: its planning process. Said Brodin: “Our teams sit down with each operator and their crews to find out how they want to use their aircraft and where they’ll be flying, so we can determine the equipment and configuration that best suits that operator, even down to the smallest detail that might affect a crew’s safety and aircraft control. Then, we walk them through the whole mission analysis, that leads into engineering and design, product manufacturing, systems integration and modification–all these disciplines we walk through to make sure the end product is a quality system and that we’ve addressed all the human factors concerns.”
It’s a process that has proven itself time and again.
“Take the first Firehawks we did for L.A. County,” said Slattery. “They’re very customized, very unique, but they haven’t required any major upgrades or changes in the 17 years L.A. has had them. Except for very small changes, they’re in the exact same configuration as when we delivered them. That’s rare and was because of the close and effective working relationship we had with them. That’s a testament to our planning process. And, it’s a big reason why they came back to us for their new S-70i Firehawks.”
With more and more municipalities and operators having to justify a helicopter’s expense by utilizing it for multiple missions, United Rotorcraft is well-positioned to continue being the multi-mission provider of choice to operators not just in the United States, but around the world.
“Other state agencies and municipal organizations have expressed an interest in the Firehawk configuration,” said Brodin. “There are also international markets, especially Australia–who are dealing with bigger, longer and more damaging fire seasons–for whom the Firehawk would be an ideal solution.”
Slattery also sees a possibility for the Black Hawk to be used in a number of different market segments.
“Customers may need a border patrol solution, or a science platform solution,” he said. “There are so many different missions that can be fulfilled with the Black Hawk platform.”
And, having outfitted some 500 Army Black Hawks with medevac kits and multi-mission capabilities, there may be no company better suited to bringing a multi-use Black Hawk/Firehawk platform to the commercial/civilian world.
While the Firehawk is definitely a focus going forward, United Rotorcraft’s experience across sectors and aircraft platforms means an array of solutions are possible for any operator.
“We have a wide range of capabilities,” said Slattery. “We’ve gone outside the restraints of a single mission or a single aircraft manufacturer. The key is we’re a one-stop shop. We’re able to manage the whole project. And with completions, the management of every phase and every aspect, is a critical differentiator.”