New S-61T Helos for the US Government
In February 2010, Sikorsky announced an indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity agreement with the US Department of State to purchase up to 110 modernized S-61T Sea King helicopters, for itself or for other government departments. USDoS is expected to be the largest customer, buying them for “passenger and cargo transport missions in support of its worldwide operations.”
That will reduce, but not eliminate, the State Department’s regular need to lease helicopters for this purpose. As one example, the helicopter that spirited Rep. Alan Grayson [fmr. D-FL] out of Niger during the 2010 coup was flown by Blackwater/Xe’s Presidential Airways. The Sikorsky contract probably won’t change that sort of need, but it will make a difference in countries like Afghanistan. Because of the current state of helicopter support there, the role of private contractors to fill the gaps has been growing. The initial S-61T delivery order has been sent there, as an alternative the ensures availability for the department’s personnel. That has been followed by more orders, and Sikorsky is pointedly touting the S-61Ts as a broader alternative to leased machines in theater – many of which are earlier-model S-61s.
New Clothes for an Old King: The S-61T
The S-61 is the civilian designation for the popular SH-3 Sea King line of helicopters. Many SH-3s remain in service with military operators around the world, despite their age and wear. The helicopters handle extremely well, offer good cargo capacity, and are considered to be a safe design under a wide variety of conditions, including the ability to land on water. On the civilian side, Sikorsky estimates that over 650 S-61 variants remain in service worldwide, performing both general and specialty missions.
The S-61T is a joint development with S-61 operator Carson Helicopters, Inc. It includes a fully modernized “glass cockpit” from Sagem with digital screens and avionics; a modular wiring harness; engine and transmission improvements; and composite main rotor blades, in order to add extra speed and another 1,200 pounds of lift capacity.
Conversion to S-61T status takes about 6 months, and S-61T Program Manager Anthony Serksnas says that it has 10 S-61 helicopters in inventory to meet initial conversion requirements. Another 65 government surplus helicopters are reportedly available, and the US State Department would provide more from the private market as government-furnished equipment, if that became necessary.
Sikorsky and its partner Carson have been working on several additional improvements to the platform, which may become the subject of future block upgrades or enhancements under the contract. The 2 biggest are a composite tail rotor that would complement the main rotor, and a potential switch to GE’s T-58-16 engine variant.
Contracts & Key Events
Nov 8/11: Sikorsky Aerospace Services announces that the U.S. Department of State has ordered 3 more S-61Ts, bringing total purchases under their contract to 29. These 3 helicopters will transport diplomatic personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.
June 6/11: Denmark decides that its problematic new EH101 search and rescue helicopter has reached “good enough” status, and its DALO proceeds to sell all 7 of the Danish military’s existing Sea Kings, plus their spares, for $7.5 million. Which is more than the Danes originally paid in 1965, even in constant dollars. The buyer for the helicopters? Sikorsky subsidiary Helicopter Support Inc. The Danish military’s own release says that the Sea Kings are expected to be flying in Iraq before the end of the year, and cites the quality of Danish maintenance as the reason for the expected fast turnaround. Forsvaret [in Danish].
Dec 2/10: Sikorsky Aerospace Services announces that they have delivered the 1st upgraded S-61T helicopter to the U.S. State Department, adding that purchase orders stand at 17 helicopters. Another 4 are to be delivered in 2010, with deliveries of the next 13 scheduled throughout 2011.
Oct 27/10: Sikorsky Aerospace Services announces an order for 2 more S-61Ts, to support US Drug Enforcement Agency drug interdiction efforts in Afghanistan. The helicopters are bought under the US Department of State’s umbrella contract, and brings total orders so far to 17 helicopters.
Sept 20/10: The U.S. State Department orders another 11 helicopters under the contract, for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. This brings the number ordered so far to 15. All are State Department machines, but the contract would allow any US government agency to order them.
Sikorsky adds that the first 4 S-16T helicopters “are currently in completion” and are scheduled for deployment in Afghanistan in fall 2010. First delivery of this follow-on order is scheduled for mid-2011. Sikorsky.
June 2/10: the U.S. State Department has accepted the first 2 modernized S-61T helicopters that will support missions for the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. Sikorsky.
Feb 22/10: Sikorsky announces an indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity agreement with the US Department of State to purchase up to 110 modernized S-61T Sea King helicopters, for “passenger and cargo transport missions in support of its worldwide operations.
Delivery of the first 4 modernized S-61Ts will support missions for the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan – where operators like Evergreen and Hummingbird are already using the basic type to provide services. Sikorsky’s release pointedly adds that:
“Providing an alternative to the Pentagon’s current purchase and use of Russian helicopters, Sikorsky’s American-made modernized S-61 aircraft is mission-ready now for deployment to Afghanistan and the surrounding regions.”