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Sunday December 22, 2002 :

Sikorsky unveils civilian helicopter, 1st in 30 years

STRATFORD, CT, USA ( ROB VARNON for CONNECTICUT POST ) - Sikorsky Aircraft unveiled the S-92 Thursday, its first new civilian helicopter in approximately 30 years. "It's been a full generation since we had an occasion like this," said Sikorsky President Dean Borgman.

Borgman gave a brief account of the history of Sikorsky Aircraft during a special company ceremony that celebrated the S-92's attaining Federal Aviation Administration certification. Borgman said that the last civilian helicopter the company developed was the S-76 almost 30 years ago.

He said the S-92 would be this generation of Sikorsky workers' legacy. While company executives thanked the 250 workers who brought the S-92 to life, the FAA reminded them what a historic moment the S-92's certification was. "On Dec. 17, precisely 99 years after the Wright brothers flight at Kitty Hawk" the S-92's certification was signed, according to Amy Corbett, the New England Regional administrator of the FAA.

Corbett said what a wonder it was to see the birth of "the world's safest helicopter," on the same day as the first flight.

The S-92 can carry 19 passengers, reach speeds of 165 knots and fly more than 500 nautical miles. It was developed as an offshoot of Sikorsky's Black Hawk and Seahawk helicopters, which are widely used by the military. It can be configured for use at offshore oil refineries, commercial aviation and may one day carry the president, according to Borgman.

Ret. Lt. Col. Gerald Hopkins, the FAA's chief test pilot of the S-92, said the 26,000-pound aircraft handled smoothly. Hopkins was familiar with Sikorsky aircraft, having flown the Black Hawk during his military career. He said the cockpit was especially comfortable and praised the use of displays instead of gauges.

The S-92 uses several display screens to inform pilots of the status of fuel and other flight systems.

The new helicopter will go into production in March 2003 and will be assembled alongside the Comanche attack helicopter at Sikorsky's renovated Bridgeport facilities. The first S-92 could be delivered to a customer as early as March 2004.

Nick Lappos, a Bridgeport native and the S-92 program manager, said what is new about the helicopter is not immediately visible. "Superficially, it looks like any helicopter, but inside it's a whole new animal," Lappos said.

Lappos, an engineer and a graduate of Bridgeport Central High School, said the flight systems, rotary assembly and a variety of other systems had been upgraded using the latest technology. Comparing the S-92 to the company's previous helicopter models, he said, would be like comparing a 2002 model car to a 1975 Chevy.

In all, 17 Sikorsky divisions worked since the inception of the program in 1990 to bring the helicopter together under four chief engineers, according to Lappos. Sections of the aircraft were also produced at facilities in China, Spain, Brazil and Japan.

Fairfield-based General Electric Co.'s Lynn, Mass., facility produced the S-92's engine and Windsor-based Hamilton Sundstram created the flight systems for the helicopter.

Sikorsky spokeswoman Sheena Steiner said the company could not comment on the number of jobs the S-92 would create in the area. But the new helicopter will be sold on the international market, where Sikorsky has reported it has not been doing well.

The company has blamed a lack of international business for its trimming of more than 300 jobs over the last two months.

Lappos said customers had already placed 20 orders for the S-92. A fully loaded S-92 configured to carry 19 passengers to an offshore oil refinery could cost about $15.5 million, according to Steiner.

Paul Martin, Sikorsky's senior vice president of government and advanced development, said the S-92 also could be converted for military search-and-rescue operations; the company, he said, will move forward on those applications as demand grows.

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