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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rotorcraft Report: Sikorsky System to Assist Oil Platform Landings

COMMERCIAL/OFFSHORE

Sikorsky will be making life easier for S-92A pilots by giving them the capability to make hands-free IFR approaches towards offshore oil platforms. Scheduled for FAA/Transport Canada certification by year-end, the flight control computer enhancement will replace the reportedly 14 pilot actions required to initiate approach, with no more than seven—and those carried out either prior to departure or during cruise. Through a software upgrade to the flight control computer, pilots input the coordinates of the platform’s helipad, the inbound course dependent on wind direction, the minimum descent height and finally, the offset distance to the platform.

Sikorsky is testing an automated oil platform landing system at its Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.
The aircraft will then fly the approach to the platform, bringing speed down to around 30 knots of ground speed. The crew can then make the decision to conduct a visual landing on the platform or initiate a go-around.

Offshore pilots at a Sikorsky briefing at Helitech closely quizzed test pilot Ron Doeppner on the real-world capabilities of the approach system; particularly its handling qualities while flying towards the selected minimum decision height, at 30 knots groundspeed and about 100 feet above the sea. Doeppner was able to reassure that the autopilot could fully cope with such demands, even with a crosswind. “The S-92 is EASA certified for automatic approaches to the hover and can take at least a 25-knot tail or crosswind in a coupled hover. We are using very similar control laws for the rig approach.”

With Sikorsky’s new system, “the pilot programs the approach into the autopilot and the aircraft flies the approach,” he continues. “This allows the pilots to spend less time concentrating inside the cockpit and more time looking outside for visual cues,” Doeppner said, adding that the system is also useful in low-visibility and night conditions. Ground testing of the system is ongoing at Sikorsky’s facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. The company anticipates FAA certification by the end of 2009.

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