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Tiltrotor Sales Unlikely to Take Off, Industry Veteran Says 


By Valerie Insinna 

UH-60 Black Hawk

Sergei Sikorsky, the son of rotorcraft pioneer Igor Sikorsky, has witnessed more than 70 years of helicopter development and has been involved in many programs at his father’s company, Sikorsky Aircraft. But he is skeptical that tiltrotor aircraft will take the place of conventional helicopters, he told reporters in May.

“Being a very conservative character, I think you’re going to see pure helicopters around for a long, long time. I don’t see any of these tiltrotors or any of these combinations of lifting fans” gaining traction, he said. “First of all, lifting fans are going to fry a lot of people on the ground if you want to, say, make a rescue of someone. You start hovering over him, and he’s being toasted in 600 degree [Fahrenheit] downwash.”

Like other industry analysts, Sikorsky believes military procurement and research-and-development funding is likely to decrease in the next decade, and at least one helicopter manufacturer is likely to go out of business as a result. However, it is not all bad news for the rotorcraft industry, he said.

“I think the encouraging thing here, is an awful lot of that technology we’re developing right now for the military will eventually end up in civil machines as well,” he said. Even small civil helicopters will begin incorporating fly-by-wire systems, for instance.

Helicopters will become faster, with the ability to travel longer ranges without needing to be refueled. Materials and manufacturing techniques will also continue to progress, he said. Advanced composites have the potential to cut down a helicopter’s weight, and can be used to build an airframe without the need for heavy machinery. 

“Also, I personally am very much intrigued by this additive manufacturing technology and the fact that you may eventually be able to build gear boxes and transmissions” using it, he said. “I personally think it will revolutionize manufacturing in about another 30 years.”

While manned aircraft will continue to dominate sales, unmanned full-size helicopters will increasingly be used to transport cargo in and out of isolated areas, thus reducing danger to pilots, he said.

Sikorsky Aircraft announced later that month that it would produce an unmanned version of is UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

Photo Credit: Sikorsky, Marine Corps

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