All too many years ago, I was a Navy pilot who flew helicopters both for odd utility missions and then for search and rescue off a carrier. Back in those ancient days, the first “big” helicopter I flew was the Sikorski H-34, the last front-line helicopter to use an internal combustion engine – the nine-cylinder Wright 1820 Radial. For those of you for whom this conjures no image, the H-34 is the bird that attempts to retrieve Gus Grissom’s waterlogged capsule in the movie The Right Stuff.
The other Sikorski I flew was the H-3, a twin turboshaft powered helicopter originally used for anti-submarine warfare, but many were converted to search and rescue birds during the Vietnam era because the Navy’s principal SAR helicopter – the Kaman H-2 – was originally only a single turboshaft helicopter that lacked the power to do heavy lifting in the high density altitudes of Southeast Asia. I flew the H-2 for a short time as well before transitioning to the H-3.
Like most helo drivers of that time, I loved the Sikorskis. They were strong, durable, and reliable. And they definitely didn’t have all the glitches of the H-2s , about which I wrote a SF story, in a way [“Iron Man, Plastic Ships”].
So… I was rather shocked to learn that United Technologies (UTC), the parent company of Sikorski, is looking at “strategic alternatives” for Sikorski, including spinning off the company as an independent entity. Why? Because its projected annual growth rate is only 3-5%, and its profit margin is only 10% – on annual revenues of $7-8 billion, compared to 15% for Pratt & Whitney, the other principal division of UTC . Although Sikorski has an order backlog of $49 billion, more than any other military helicopter manufacturer in the world, and firm orders and deliveries scheduled into the late 2020s, this apparently isn’t profitable enough for the suits at UTC, despite the fact that Sikorski just landed over a billion dollar order from the Indian navy.
One of the oldest helicopter manufacturers in the world, with solid profit margins, and lots of future sales, isn’t making enough money. And Sikorski builds really good helicopters. But apparently, making solid profits and producing an outstanding product isn’t enough for corporate America.
And that’s more than sad.