Planes, drones, special missions aircraft on display at Sierra Nevada Industry Day

MERIDIANVILLE — A cost-effective solution for retrofitting old Black Hawk helicopters with the most technologically advanced electronics and equipment was unveiled recently by Sierra Nevada. The event was held during Sierra Nevada’s Industry Day at the company’s facility at the Huntsville Executive Airport.

SNC acquired the older model Air Force UH-60L Black Hawk through Huntsville’s Black Hawk Exchange & Sales Team (BEST) program. They removed the outdated analog gages and Marconi strip radar system and replaced it with an all glass cockpit, a fully certified state-of-the-art digital avionics suite, and mission-specific equipment including an external mounted camera, rescue hoists, and a 200-gallon auxiliary fuel tank. Now known as the Sierra Force Rotary-Wing Aircraft, the newly retrofitted helicopter is valued at an estimated $19 million.

“At the end of the day, each Sierra Force aircraft returns a significant portion of the production cost to the U.S. government,” said Bill Morris, vice president of business development for Sierra Nevada. “We make it possible for the U.S. Air Force to acquire the most cost-effective replacement aircraft available.”

Also, on exhibit was a King Air 350ER Mission Enhancement Kit.

King Air 350ER Mission Enhancement Kit with five-blade propellers that enable the aircraft to climb to 30,000 feet in 17 minutes.

“We bought the standard King Air as a green aircraft,” he said. “… using the Independent Research and Development (IR&D) program to determine what modifications were needed, we created a Mission Enhancement Kit that involves installing a new engine, an electronic braking system, and a light weight battery that removes 20 pounds from the aircraft, while increasing the capacity to fly at airspeeds up to 340 knots.”

Morris said Sierra Nevada replaced the four-blade propeller with five blades, which enable the plane to climb to 30,000 feet in 17 minutes instead of 40 minutes. It mitigates a lot of the noise from the engine so passengers can have a reasonable conversation without headsets.

“On an ordinary 90-degree day at 7,000 feet, you would have only about 30 minutes of fuel available,” said Morris. “With our newly designed kit, you can fly for eight hours under the same conditions – a significant increase for our Army forces who fly very long distances on manned surveillance and intelligence missions.”

The King Air and the SNC Scorpion Aircraft are fully-integrated multi-role special mission aircraft whose configurations include a lightweight interior, LED lighting, an extended nose to accommodate camera and sensors that surveil targets on the ocean up to 200 nautical miles; and a Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) satellite communications system on top that transmits data in real time to a ground station.

Also on display during Industry Day was a battery-operated surveillance drone. The aircraft is housed in a case with a Unified Ground Control Station, a hand-held controller and manned and unmanned teaming functions.

Powered by software designed by Kutta Technologies, the unmanned aircraft system can be dropped from an aircraft and deployed remotely from ground or air and has autonomous landing capabilities. It has a payload bay and a powerful camera that can see around corners. The drone can be programmed with waypoints or set to loiter and wait for updates from the controller.