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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sikorsky President Jeff Pino’s View from the Top

By Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor

Jeff Pino addresses the press at Heli-Expo 2012. Photo by Andrew Parker

Igor Sikorsky “thought the helicopter was only here to save lives,” said Jeff Pino, president of Sikorsky Aircraft, at the start of his Heli-Expo briefing. “We’ve kind of counted how many lives have been saved by Sikorsky—and come up with two million!” Was he joking?

According to Sikorsky’s own archives, the first civilian helicopter rescue took place on Nov. 29, 1945, when a Sikorsky R-5 rescued two men stranded on a floating oil barge on the East Coast. That gives us 66 full years (as I write this in February 2012). That’s 30,303 lives saved per year—or 83 people on average every day since 1945. Wonder where they got the figures from?

The next set of figures, Pino was bound to have spot-on. He announced that the company registered $7.4 billion in sales for 2011, which he said represented a “tremendous growth path since 2005.” He views Sikorsky and Eurocopter as equals.

“We’re starting to change the pie between the U.S. government and the rest of our revenue sources,” he said. All three of the business segments were now delivering helicopters, but the big numbers are still with the Department of Defense: “125 Black Hawks, 66 Naval Hawks and six other major mods that we just don’t talk about,” but could be flying over a terrorist hideaway in foreign lands as we speak—he might have added.

Civil Segment Wins Over Nine

“From height of market back in 2008 we have seen a downward trend as the market went through capitalization issues, but at the end of 2011 we brokered over 26 S-92 orders in December alone,” he said.

“A couple of things drive our position in the civil market. Historically, it has always been a nine passenger and above kind of world. And that’s still driving the marketplace,” Pino stated. The age of that nine-plus passenger fleet is a factor too, around one third of it is approaching 30 years of service. Many of the offshore oil contracts require aircraft of only 10 years old—so that’s why the exhibitor floor at Heli-Expo will be busy, he explained.

Gorilla in the Room

The military business is “70 percent of our company—worth $4.5 billion in 2011 (more than the whole of Sikorsky in 2007). It has grown 20 percent annually compound growth rate over the last five years—our programs of record with the DoD are the envy of the industry.” Black Hawk and Naval Hawk will continue “at the level of today for the next 15 years and there’s nobody else here who can say that,” he said. But we are still going to position ourselves to make up military shortfall with international work. There are over 1,000 international Hawks flying today—we also delivered our first international Black Hawks from Poland,” including three to Saudi Arabia and one to a customer in Mexico.

Military budgets are coming down—its a historical cycle, he says. A peak in Vietnam, a peak during the Reagan years, and a peak that has just passed, “but we still look forward to our next multi-year being signed in July this year.”

The thing Sikorsky is “most proud of is that our Black Hawks have flown 1.4 million combat flight hours without one Class A accident caused by material defect or workmanship defect by our factory. Seventy percent of accidents are due to controlled flight into terrain. We are currently in negotiation/and been selected for another $5 billion of international orders, and there are another $8 billion that we are also chasing,” he explained.

“The CH-53K is the only ongoing government funding program—same design spec but will lift 27,000 lbs. more. I want to tell you that at this point in time the program is running absolutely perfectly. We have three aircraft on the production line and we will fly the aircraft in 2014. The program of record is for 200 aircraft (with another 100 in the works). We think everything else in the DoD is slipping.”

The Future

“What we’ve asked our engineers to do is focus on three bright and shiny objects—as they like to do. The speed of the helicopter; actualization (self-awareness and environmental awareness); and to allow optionally piloted helicopters.”

This year, Sikorsky will “begin not only hub-mounted vibration, but testing on rotor blades that can morph themselves, when an application can be punched [in] to say I want the rotor system for the next 20 minutes to be quiet, fast and that lifts. That’s in Q2. Then a fly-by-wire Black Hawk will do a complete resupply mission in Q2—with a crew and without a crew with full autonomy. In our labs we have actually auto-rotated a Black Hawk autonomously.”

When money doesn’t come to industry from government and private industry puts up the money, “we can do it [a project] in about of a quarter of the cost and time,” he concluded.

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