A Brief History of Sikorsky Helicopters

View All Posts

The Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation is now a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation. But it was originally established in 1923 by Igor Sikorsky to build a twin-engine biplane. For the first twenty years of the company’s existence, Sikorsky designed and built multi-engine cargo planes and flying boats. In 1940, Sikorsky began developing a single rotor helicopter. The design, later designated the R4, was accepted by the U.S. Army and the British Royal Navy in 1942 for use in the final years of World War II.

During the 1940s, helicopters were used to transport spare airplane parts from cargo ships to airfields and evacuate medical casualties to hospital ships in the Pacific theater. In fact, one of the original purposes of helicopters was to land on naval vessels that did not have space for airplanes to land.

This began a long history of Sikorsky helicopters for both military and civilian use.

The H 60 Family

The H 60 family of helicopters (also known as the S70 family) was originally developed in the early 1970s with the first flight occurring in 1974. By 1979, the Sikorsky UH 60 Black Hawk entered service with the U.S. Army.

The UH 60 Black Hawk has four primary variants, although there are many sub-variants within each:

  • UH60 Black Hawk flown by the U.S. Army and U.S. Special Forces
  • SH 60 Seahawk flown by the U.S. Navy
  • HH 60 Pave Hawk flown by the U.S. Air Force
  • HH 60 Jayhawk flown by the U.S. Coast Guard

In addition to the military variants, the H 60 family also has a number of civilian variants including models used for firefighting, border patrol, and executive transport. In fact, the U.S. presidential helicopter is a variant of the H 60 family. The U.S. Marine Corps operates nine VH 60N White Hawk helicopters for presidential transport.

Reliability

While the UH 60 Black Hawk is one of the most reliable helicopters in the world, it does require maintenance to avoid safety issues. In fact, an audit in 2017 found that as many as 25% of the U.S. Army’s Black Hawk helicopters had not been inspected as required and that this lapse had risked the lives and safety of aircrews. The failure to inspect Sikorsky UH 60 Black Hawk parts for wear and repair or replace them with Sikorsky helicopter parts had resulted in unnecessary groundings. Moreover, if these helicopters had been inspected and maintained with Sikorsky helicopter parts as required, commanders would not have recommended helicopters that were in flyable condition for modernization or retirement.

The HV 92 Family

The HV 92 family of helicopters (also known as the S92 family) is a derivative of the H 60 family. It is commonly referred to as the “Superhawk” and is primarily used by civilian and military operators for medical evacuation, search and rescue, and executive transport. In fact, the next generation of U.S. presidential helicopters is a variant of the H 92 family. The U.S. Marine Corps has ordered 23 VH 92 helicopters, 21 of which will be used to transport the president and other VIPs while the remaining two will be used for training.

When it was approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (or FAA), the certification board called the H 92 the “safest helicopter in the world.” The H 92 has a number of safety and comfort features, including an active vibration control system that reduces the vibration and sound experienced by passengers. Many of the civilian users of the H 92 helicopters are based in the U.S. The U.S. has five times the heliports of any other country. In fact, the U.S. has as many heliports as every other country in the world combined.

Even with its attention to safety, the designers of the H 92 helicopter did not intend it to last forever without maintenance. The H 92 has been involved in at least two incidents — a crash in 2016 and a hard landing in 2017 — where maintenance issues were a contributing factor. In both of these incidents, inspections of Sikorsky helicopter parts and maintenance with Sikorsky spare parts could have changed the outcomes.

The history of Sikorsky helicopters is one of robust and reliable helicopters. The UH 60 Black Hawk helicopters and H 92 helicopters have a long track record of safety, as long as they are maintained with Sikorsky helicopter parts.