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Amid a wave of military deals, Sikorsky has sold only one commercial helicopter since 2019

Connecticut Post logo Connecticut Post 4/20/2021 By Alexander Soule
a helicopter flying in the air: A Sikorsky Firehawk helicopter operated by Cal Fire, one of three Sikorsky delivered in December 2019 including aircraft for firefighter organizations in Los Angeles and San Diego. (Press photo via Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin) © Provided by Connecticut Post

A Sikorsky Firehawk helicopter operated by Cal Fire, one of three Sikorsky delivered in December 2019 including aircraft for firefighter organizations in Los Angeles and San Diego. (Press photo via Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin)

As Sikorsky ramps up production of big helicopter programs for the Pentagon, the company kicked off 2021 by delivering a single helicopter for commercial aviation — its first such shipment in more than a year.

A Lockheed Martin spokesperson did not immediately state the type of helicopter it delivered and did not name the buyer.

Sikorsky has not announced any civil aviation aircraft deliveries in the United States since December 2019, when it sold three Firehawk helicopters to emergency agencies in California, each equipped with a tank to dump up to 1,000 gallons of water on wildfires.

Sikorsky and parent company Lockheed Martin are the third largest private-sector employers in Connecticut. At last report, there were about 8,200 employees at Sikorsky’s main plant in Stratford and satellite facilities in Bridgeport, Shelton and Trumbull.

With Pentagon Black Hawk purchases providing a steady flow of revenue for decades, Sikorsky has seen sales dissipate for its S-76 helicopter, which is used extensively for corporate transport, air ambulance and shuttles. As oil and gas companies expanded their offshore rig count in the 1990s, Sikorsky began touting its larger S-92 helicopter for that shuttle work.

an old military plane: U.S. Marines with the 1st Marine Logistics Group prepare to rig a Humvee onto a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter manufactured by Sikorsky, in early April 2021 at Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range in California. Sikorsky is ramping up manufacturing for as many as 200 CH-53K King Stallion helicopters to replace the Super Stallion in the coming decade, with the King Stallion having triple the load capacity. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. KarlHendrix Aliten) © Provided by Connecticut Post

U.S. Marines with the 1st Marine Logistics Group prepare to rig a Humvee onto a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter manufactured by Sikorsky, in early April 2021 at Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range in California. Sikorsky is ramping up manufacturing for as many as 200 CH-53K King Stallion helicopters to replace the Super Stallion in the coming decade, with the King Stallion having triple the load capacity. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. KarlHendrix Aliten)

Early in 2020, a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter carrying NBA superstar Kobe Bryant crashed into a hillside near Calabasa, Calif., killing Bryant and eight others.

Civil aviation sales have been negligible since Lockheed Martin acquired Sikorsky in 2016 from United Technologies, amid a global glut of oil and natural gas in recent years and as Bell Helicopter and Airbus have marketed light helicopters that are less expensive than the S-76 and S-92.

Lockheed Martin has been able to make up the difference with military sales, delivering 57 helicopters between October 2020 and this past March, versus 47 in the same six-month span a year earlier. That includes early prototypes of the CH-53K King Stallion now rolling off the production line in Stratford, the largest helicopter ever fielded for the U.S. military with the U.S. Marine Corps setting its sights on as many as 200 choppers.

Lockheed Martin does not carve out Sikorsky’s standalone revenue, but indicated Sikorsky garnered an additional $170 million in the first quarter from a year earlier as it readies for full production of the King Stallion; as well as a fleet of White House helicopters and a helicopter for clandestine missions by the U.S. Air Force.

The King Stallion helped vault Sikorsky’s rotary and mission systems unit to the top performer of four Lockheed Martin divisions in the first three months of 2021. The unit’s revenue was up 10 percent from a year ago to $4.1 billion, with profits up 15 percent to $433 million.

a helicopter flying over a field: A pilot flies the S-97 Raider prototype helicopter in April 2021 in Huntsville, Ala. (Press photo via Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin) © Provided by Connecticut Post

A pilot flies the S-97 Raider prototype helicopter in April 2021 in Huntsville, Ala. (Press photo via Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin)

Including its F-35 fighter jet manufacturing unit and two others focused on missiles and spacecraft, Lockheed Martin revenue was up 4 percent to $16.3 billion, with earnings increasing 7 percent to $1.8 billion.

Defense contractors have had a few months to absorb the Biden administration’s early priorities, with Lockheed Martin CEO Jim Taiclet giving his own take during a Tuesday conference call with investment analysts.

“The Biden administration clearly recognizes that we’re all in an era of resurgent great-power competition and regional disruptive powers that are out there as well, like Iran and North Korea,” Taiclet said Tuesday. “That’s a world that’s not going to get any more peaceful any time soon.”

Israel is purchasing the King Stallion to replace its fleet of nearly two dozen Sikorsky CH-53E helicopters, in addition to the 200 helicopters Sikorsky is building for the Marines. And Germany is considering the helicopter with the possibility of purchasing more than 100 aircraft.

“Israel ... will be a great opportunity for us,” said Ken Possenriede, chief financial officer of Lockheed Martin, speaking Tuesday. “A lot of these other helicopter programs are now into production.”

Sikorsky continues to progress on several programs, conducting flight demonstrations last week of its S-97 Raider prototype helicopter for U.S. Army evaluators considering as a potential armed scout helicopter to take on the role of the Army’s old fleet of OH-58 Kiowa helicopters.

And in late March, Sikorsky successfully piloted a Black Hawk helicopter remotely with no crew aboard, offering the potential for additional business retrofitting some of the more than 1,500 Black Hawk helicopters currently in service for missions deemed at greater risk to pilots.

Five years after acquiring Sikorsky from the United Technologies predecessor company of Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin is on the cusp of picking up another former UTC business — Aerojet Rocketdyne, which produced rocket engines for the Mars Perseverance Rover mission, as well as thrusters that allowed a “sky crane” to hover as it lowered the rover to the planet’s surface.

The Federal Trade Commission is now reviewing the deal for any antitrust concerns, with Aerojet Rocketdyne competitors including Northrop Grumman and upstarts SpaceX and Blue Origin.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne — that’s on track,” Possenriede said. “We just got our second request from the FTC which is no surprise, nothing’s changed. We’re still very bullish for that to come to resolution in the fourth quarter.”

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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