Black Hawk Dawn
Ex-military helicopter designs entering the commercial market are potentially breathing life into the industry, with CH-47 and UH-60 Black Hawk variants now entering service from North America to Australia.
In August, the US Army Contracting Command Redstone, on behalf of the Utility Helicopters Project Management Office, announced the availability of 14 UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters for sale under the Black Hawk Exchange and Sales Team programme.
This could mean we see more refurbished examples of the type appearing in the civil domain in the next few years worldwide. However, with the market just keeping its head above water following the economic downturn, do these models pose healthy competition or oversupply if taken into the civil sector?
Three years on from the first Black Hawk auction, companies are bringing forth their overhauled aircraft to the commercial market. Some of the major players that refurbish ex-US Army Black Hawks are Arista Aviation, BHI2, Global Aviation Solutions, Rogerson Kratos and Unical Defense.
The Black Hawk, having been on the frontline of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq as well other theatres, is suited to the hot and high environments of southern European regions during the summer fire season. While refurbished models have already been tasked with firefighting missions, other sectors that could utilise the platforms include SAR, EMS and law enforcement.
Sikorsky Australia recently announced that it will refurbish ten ex-US Army rotorcraft for firefighting and disaster relief operations. The A$63 million ($50 million) contract announced on 27 July will see deliveries of the Black Hawks to StarFlight Australia begin in Q1 2018.
StarFlight, a joint venture that was established in 2015 by LifeFlight and Kaan Air, also holds an option on a further ten helicopters of the same type.
Under the contract, Sikorsky Australia will structurally refurbish the aircraft and install new engines, main and tail rotor gearboxes and drivetrain and a new rescue hoist. The cockpit will be upgraded with a helicopter terrain awareness and warning system.
What will be interesting to see is if these helicopters really establish themselves in the European market or if they are held up by regulations as they convert to civil usage. It is likely that the red tape might just delay things, and operators might experience hassle here.
In March 2017, Sikorsky confirmed at Heli-Expo that it is committed to serving the growing technical and logistical support needs of more than 30 commercial operators who have acquired surplus UH-60A.
Also at the show, Darrell Kindley, CEO of Global Aviation Solutions, told RH that the Acehawk, one of the company’s refurbished Black Hawks, was expected to receive its STC by the Q2 2018.
The Acehawk is a retrofit kit available for UH-60A/Ls and S-70 aircraft, and the aircraft is to be marketed worldwide as well as in the US.
The Acehawk cockpit features four 12in, 4K displays and two touchscreen controllers, panoramic view and aynthetic vision technology, and the option to integrate third-party radios, sensors and other mission equipment without affecting the G5000H core software.
The Black Hawk is a robust and versatile helicopter, which has more than proven itself in the military arena. However, with a civil market bustling with new platforms and legacy medium to heavy aircraft fairly capable of undertaking firefighting missions, the Black Hawk will have to get its claws in pretty deep to prove it is not a flighty bird and will be able to stay the long term in the civil market.