The first of four Sikorsky S-92 helicopters that will service the UK Gap SAR (search and rescue) contract later this year is currently stationed at Inverness as part of a training programme, while the second was air freighted into Prestwick and ferried to Aberdeen shortly after.
"For the first time in European civil aviation, a large multi-engine helicopter will be able to be flown under night-vision goggle technology," says Gap SAR project manager Ian Middleton. "The Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency contracted Bristow to provide SAR helicopters that can operate in northern Scotland in all weather conditions, day and night. Our helicopters are entering a completely new theatre of operations using this technology."
The latest-generation image intensifier tubes used in NVG are difficult to obtain and required an export license agreement with the US State Department.
Also onboard is an L3 Wescam MX-15iHD FLIR/TV camera turret that provides infrared search capability and a high-definition video camera in a fully stabilised and moveable turret beneath the nose.
Other SAR-related features on the S-92 include: Honeywell Skyforce Observer 2000 mapping system in the rear crew mission station; multiple communications systems including high frequency, VHF AM/FM radio, UHF radio, satellite communications, satellite tracking of the helicopter, marine vessel transponder, secure communications capabilities and wireless intercoms; multiple casualty-stretcher arrangement in the cabin; and dual Goodrich rescue hoist installation.
The contract start is scheduled for June, with the transition of the Sumburgh base from the present contractor to Bristow. The transition of the second base, Stornoway, will take place in July. Two S-92s will be stationed at each base.
In January, the Financial Times reported that the contest to run the UK's SAR helicopter services for at least 10 years has been reduced to a race between two operators, Bond Offshore Helicopters and Bristow, after the government announced that CHC would not be asked to submit final tenders.