Photo: Contributed Photo / Contributed Photo
Sikorsky’s latest contract to build a dozen new CH-53K King Stallion helicopters for the U.S. Marine Corps may mean added jobs in the state, but to CEO Dan Schultz it’s a bit more personal.
“For me this is full circle,” he said, recalling his days as a marine pilot flying the King Stallion’s predecessor — the CH-53E Super Stallion, which has been a part of the Marine Corps fleet since 1981.
Schultz said he was also present for the first pickup of the Super Stallion for the military branch.
“To work on something like the (CH-53K) to replace it is a huge honor,” he said. Sikorsky recently was awarded $1.1 billion contract, part of a larger order of 200 King Stallions to replace the Marine Corps outdated fleet.
The Pentagon will award the money in stages to Sikorsky and parent Lockheed Martin, including $509 million for the current fiscal year and $617 million in the following year.
Under the terms of the contract, known as Low Rate Initial Production, Sikorsky will begin deliveries of a dozen CH-53K helicopters in 2022 and provide spare parts and support.
The contract serves as a confidence boost for the Stratford-based company, Schultz said, adding that a manufacturer would normally be commissioned for a couple of helicopters rather than a bulk order.
“You can see the scalability in their confidence in us,” Schultz said.
The King Stallion is designed as a heavy-lift cargo and troop transport that can fly higher and farther than existing helicopters already in use in the Department of Defense, and with far heavier cargoes.
Sikorsky delivered an initial model of the aircraft to the Marines roughly a year ago as part of a 2013 contract awarded to the company.
Ultimately, a strong performance during the company’s test program helped lead to the billion-dollar contract, according to Schultz.
When tested, the helicopter was flown at more than 230 miles per hour while banking at sharp angles, attaining an altitude of 18,500 feet and lifting an external load weighing 18 tons.
“This is just the beginning,” Schultz said.
Sikorsky and its suppliers have invested millions into its Stratford-based factory to prepare for production, which is expected to begin this summer.
The company invested roughly $96 million in structural modifications last year to upgrade crane systems and a rig area for testing water-tightness, and rearranged utilities to support the King Stallion workload.
Along with improving facilities, machinery and tooling, Schultz said Sikorsky has also invested in workforce training to ramp-up production required for the CH-53K program.
“What it means for us in Connecticut is this will fill our factory,” Schultz said, adding that it will also mean an increase in jobs for the state.
The manufacturer has 20 other helicopters in different stages of production.
According to spokesperson Erin Cox, the company will have a better idea of its hiring plans during the summer once production of the King Stallions is underway.