It is a rare opportunity to see the aircraft you could be flying in the future half assembled on a production line. However, this opportunity became a reality as the midshipmen of the Boston University – MIT Naval ROTC Consortium toured Sikorsky’s facilities earlier this week. Nestled in the hills of Stratford, Connecticut, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation assembles and tests a large majority of the U.S. Army’s UH-60 Blackhawk and HH-60M Medevac helicopters as well as the U.S. Navy’s SH-60R Seahawk helicopters.
The visiting midshipmen, accompanied by two lieutenants from the Naval aviation community and a unit staff employee, were graciously led on a 2-hour long extended tour throughout the factory. The tour was led by gentlemen from the archives department, retired engineers who had worked for Sikorsky for 40+ years and were now responsible for keeping the company’s history alive and strong.
The tour began with a comprehensive review of Sikorsky’s company history, all the way back to its founding in 1925 by Russian American flight fanatic, Igor Sikorsky. The archives room contained a plethora of old photographs and aircraft models as well as various memorabilia from Igor Sikorksy’s private life. The group then moved onto the factory floor where actual part production and helicopter assembly takes place. Midshipmen watched as highly trained Sikorsky employees perfected everything from shaft bearings to rotor couplings. The eager midshipmen were then led onto the assembly line to see just how complex the assembly of a single aircraft can be. A single aircraft, which arrives on the line as a metal frame from a separate nearby facility takes approximately 36 days to construct. Once finally assembled, an aircraft will go through leak testing in a rainstorm simulation and undergo basic flight-testing by onsite Sikorsky pilots.
MIDN 1/C Nate Byam-Mooney, a senior Navy option, who was selected to attend flight school after he graduates, commented on his favorite part of the tour. “I found the construction of the rotor blades particularly interesting,” he says. “They are formed from round metal tubes and the amount of work that goes into a single blade is impressive. They’re so complex that they still haven’t discovered how to make two perfectly identical blades. It’s crazy.”
The tour culminated at Igor Sikorsky’s office, which contained the original couch, desk, and decorations. Numerous photographs and gifts adorned the walls, including photographs of Orville Wright with Igor Sikorsky and an R4 helicopter, and one of Neil Armstrong chatting with Igor.
MIDN 1/C Tyler Mehrman, a senior Navy option who was selected to attend flight school after he graduates, comments: “Seeing his office, you can tell he had a devout passion for aviation and was a true engineer at heart. Sikorsky has preserved his office well, making me feel like I stepped back in time when looking around.”
The most iconic piece of memorabilia in the office was Igor Sikorsky’s fedora. Even though Sikorsky flew for over 30 years during the most dangerous periods of aviation, he never was injured in a crash and he never wore a crash helmet. Instead, Sikorsky always wore a stylish fedora and over time, it became customary for pilots to try it on in order to gain good luck.
The overwhelming reaction experienced by those trying on this lucky charm: “Wow, his head was tiny!”
Written by: MIDN 2/c Andrew Bates