Autonomous Aircraft, Hybrid Power, VTOL Shape Sikorsky’s Future
Stratford-based Sikorsky Aircraft is one of the biggest employers in Connecticut, with nearly 8,000 of its 12,400 employees in the state.
“We’re really proud to call Connecticut home,” Sikorsky president Lemmo said during a June 27 online event hosted by CBIA.
“We always have been and and we’re going to be here for certainly the foreseeable future.”
The event was an exclusive update on the helicopter manufacturer’s current programs and future growth prospects.
“We’ve obviously got a lot happening here,” said CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima.
“Folks coming back from the Paris Air Show, who are involved in manufacturing on the defense and commercial side, and no player bigger, more important in Connecticut than Sikorsky.”
Lemmo discussed the U.S. Government Accountability Office turning down Sikorsky’s challenge of the U.S. Army’s choice for its Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program to eventually replace the iconic Black Hawk.
The Army chose Bell Textron’s V-280 Valor tilt-rotor model for the program over the high-speed Defiant X prototype developed by the Lockheed Martin subsidiary in partnership with Boeing.
“Obviously, that was a big disappointment to us here at Sikorsky,” Lemmo said. “And after considering our options we decided to move on as really the best course of action.”
Sikorsky celebrated the 5,000th delivery of a Hawk model aircraft in January and Lemmo is confident the Black Hawk will remain a mainstay as the Army through the next four to five decades.
“You can’t buy aircraft today and for have to retrofit, recapitalize, and modernize those assets,” he said.
“We’re making a significant investment in Sikorsky to get ready for that and to also show them what’s possible on the platform, what’s technically possible to upgrade the platform.”
Lemmo said there was “significant” global demand for Sikorsky aircraft.
“We serve over 40 nations around the world—many, many different customers,” he said.
“People are seeing what’s transpired in Ukraine and operationally how helicopters have been used, where they’ve been successful, where they have not, and what’s required of a helicopter to be survivable in that environment.”
He also highlighted other projects and contracts for military and commercial systems.
That includes Sikorsky’s bid for the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft project with its Raider X prototype.
“We still have significant business with the Army,” Lemmo said. “We look forward to them being a customer for us for many, many more years to come.”
Lemmo also noted that Sikorsky is ramping up production of the CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter for the U.S. Marine Corps.
“This is really the heart of what Sikorsky is going to be doing in the next 10 years or so,” he said.
Supply Chain Challenges
Supply chain disruptions have created significant challenges for Sikorsky over the last 18 months.
“We have seen lead times growing from our suppliers, we’ve seen price increases,” Lemmo said.
“And more importantly, but detrimental to our business, we’ve seen late deliveries starting to occur on products that we need to build our aircraft.”
He said that if something used to be an 18-month lead time, it’s now two to three years.
“All the assumptions that we ran our business by and that we thought we knew about the supply base and the predictability have really gone away over the last couple of years,” he said.
Connecticut’s labor shortage crisis is also impacting productivity for a number of Sikorsky’s suppliers.
“We’ve seen a lot of labor turnover in our supply base, which has caused them to kind of lose the recipe on some things that they have made for us,” Lemmo said.
Sikorsky has approximately 250 suppliers across Connecticut and spends more than $300 million annually with those companies.
DiPentima stressed the importance of Sikorsky and its supply chain.
“For every one manufacturing job created, you support about four or five other jobs,” he said.
“They’re eating at the local restaurants, they’re shopping at the local retail places, probably getting their clothes cleaned locally.
“And that’s really important for the Connecticut economy.”
Lemmo said that Sikorsky views suppliers as partners and tries to work with businesses if they need help in different areas.
“We want to have an open transparent relationship about any challenges you have and how we might be able to help because you really drive our business,” he said.
This year marks the company’s 100th anniversary.
Lemmo said three trends shape Sikorsky’s future: autonomy, electrification, and vertical takeoff and landing for unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned aerial systems.
He noted that Sikorsky has invested in autonomy for some time.
Sikorsky participated in an experiment with the U.S. Army to fly an unmanned Black Hawk on an 80-mile mission to deliver cargo to a theoretical battlefield.
“We’re getting a lot of interest, a lot of traction in that,” Lemmo said.
“But we’re not just looking at the Army, we’re marketing our autonomy solutions to every one of our customers.”
Lemmo said that it’s not clear if Sikorsky will go all electric because of the battery limitations and the ability to recharge on the battlefield.
But he said he envisions a hybrid electric solution, adding that Sikorsky is working in partnership with General Electric to build an aircraft capable of civilian and military applications.
“We’re not revealing everything about our concept just yet, but we’re pretty excited about it,” Lemmo said.
“We’re making a big investment that we started a few years ago and are ramping that up.”
Sikorsky is also working on a vertical lift concept aircraft that can launch from a range of vessels.
“We see this fulfilling missions of either carrying some cargo, or potentially in an intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance mode,” he said.
“Really, all these technologies are going towards providing our customers with improved range, improved speed, ease of logistics, safer aircraft, as well as direct operating savings.”
Lemmo said Sikorsky has pioneered flight solutions for a century, and that innovation “isn’t stopping any time soon.”
He said that despite many challenges, Sikorsky will continue to innovate and develop new products.
“There aren’t many companies that can say they’ve been around 100 years,” he said.
“And it definitely takes a lot of innovation and change to maintain a company through the ups and downs that our economy and the world environment presents to us.”
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