Piasecki to turn former Sikorsky factory into R&D centre


US rotorcraft company Piasecki has bought a former Sikorsky factory in Pennsylvania and plans to repurpose the site as a VTOL aircraft and unmanned drone R&D center.

The facility in Coatesville made Sikorsky’s S-76 and S-92 helicopters but will now be the test and development center for Piasecki’s hydrogen fuel cell helicopter the PA-890.

The 219,000 square foot site includes areas for engineering development, aircraft assembly, paint and finishing, and a production flight test and delivery center. Piasecki plans to open the facility before the end of this year and expects around 400 workers to be working there by 2028.

John Piasecki, CEO of Piasecki Aircraft Corporation (PiAC) said, “This facility will serve as a strong foundation for future growth and will enable us to expand our R&D and production capabilities as we deliver transformational vertical lift technologies to the defense and commercial markets.

“We chose to expand our development capabilities in the Delaware Valley because of its deep roots within the helicopter industry, its highly-talented workforce, and its robust supplier network.”

PiAC’s PA-890 will be the world’s first hydrogen-powered compound helicopter when complete.

The company is aiming for several markets with the slowed-rotor, winged aircraft including emergency medical, high-value logistics, on-Demand Mobility personnel air transport.

Piasecki has previously said it plans to conduct certification testing for the PA-890 in 2024 and to fulfill existing customer orders for up to 325 units during 2025.

PiAC is working with startup ZeroAvia which is developing hydrogen powertrains for fixed-wing aircraft. ZeroAvia’s High Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (HTPEM) hydrogen fuel cell technology will be used in the PA-890 and other Piasecki VTOL applications.

The US Air Force has invested in the ground testing of a 660kW HTPEM hydrogen fuel cell system to accelerate its development and certification.

PiAC is also developing a modular VTOL aircraft that can be operated unmanned or piloted for military applications. The Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) is a modular multi-mission, tilt duct VTOL vehicle suitable for use in shipboard and expeditionary operations.

An ARES demonstration vehicle has been developed in partnership with Lockheed Martin with funding from DARPA. PiAC is working with Honeywell on a fly-by-wire flight control system for ARES and plans to flight test the vehicle by the end of this year.

PA 890

Rendering of the Piasecki PA-890 hydrogen-electric fuel cell helicopter

ARES drone

Composite rendering of the Piasecki Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (Image: Piasecki)

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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