The aircraft had been only the fifth Black Hawk to roll off the original Sikorsky assembly line in 1978. Although the helicopter was almost 33 years old Wednesday morning, those sitting and standing in the hangar could not tell by looking at it.
One of the day’s speakers pointed to a stripped out shell of a helicopter frame behind the stage and told those gathered for the roll-out ceremony that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency aircraft looked exactly like that not long after it reached Beeville.
Employees at the Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance are systematically stripping down Black Hawks to their most basic frames and rebuilding them as some of the newest and most modern helicopters in the world of aviation.
The depot-level, recapitalization program converts Black Hawks from their original a configuration to the most modern version, the L configuration.
Deborah Zampano, director of Military Maintenance Repair & Overhaul for Sikorsky Aerospace Services, said the company has been operating here for more than nine years and more than 200 people now work at the Chase Field facility. The company occupies 200,000 square-feet of hangar space and uses 28,000 feet of runways.
UH-60 Black Hawk A/L/M Product Manager Lt. Col. Heyward Wright III said that Sikorsky helicopters are flying in the harshest environments in the world in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet, the flight crews and passengers in those aircraft know they will get them home safely.
The new configuration for the original A type Black Hawks not only includes upgraded electronics and mechanics but includes the extra external stores and fuel capacity of the newer L configuration.
Sikorsky Aerospace Services President David Alder said in a comment in a brochure made available during the ceremony that “The UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter brings tremendously improved power, durability and reliability to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection fleet. With increased mission capability and readiness, this aircraft will now provide enhanced safety and reduced maintenance burden.”
Members of the Bee Development Authority board and Beeville Economic Improvement Corporation board sat on front and center during the ceremony. BEIC board members recently recommended that the City Council approve a grant of $1,155,000 to the BDA to enable the authority to build a 38,000-square-foot warehouse for the Sikorsky operation.
If approved, the project, which is to be funded by a state grant and 4B sales tax receipts collected by the city, could allow Sikorsky and its partner in the project, Kay and Associates, to hire more than 100 additional employees in the years to come.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.