Piasecki Aircraft Corporation (PiAC) is acquiring Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky Heliplex facility in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, to establish a research and development hub for VTOL aircraft and uncrewed aerial systems. The 219,000-sq-ft site previously served as the production and delivery center for Sikorsky’s S-76 and S-92 helicopters.
Among the program’s PiAC plans to base in Coatesville is its PA-890 hydrogen-powered helicopter. The company aims to fly a technology demonstrator of the slowed-rotor winged helicopter by the end of this year as it works toward FAA type certification in 2028.
The PA-890 is expected to be used for applications including emergency medical flights, logistics, and passenger transportation. In the military market, privately owned PiAC is also working on the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System tilt duct optionally crewed VTOL vehicle and its Adaptive Digital Automated Pilotage Technology flight control system for new and existing rotorcraft.
Lockheed Martin closed the Sikorsky Heliplex in 2022, causing the loss of hundreds of jobs. PiAC, which has not disclosed how much it paid for the site, expects to reopen it in the fall and to hire around 400 workers there by 2028. The company is headquartered in Essington, Pennsylvania, which is near Philadelphia International Airport and about 40 miles from Coatesville.
“This world-class facility will serve as a strong foundation for 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,” said PiAC’s CEO, John Piasecki. “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 is working with five undisclosed prospective customers to refine the operational requirements for the PA-890. The company has also established a working group with the FAA’s Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation to develop the G-1 certification basis for the helicopter, which it expects to follow existing Part 27 and 29 requirements.
The aircraft is expected to be able to carry a pilot and up to seven passengers on trips of over 200 nm. Its maximum payload is 1,660 pounds and the maximum takeoff weight is 7,000 pounds.
ZeroAvia Provides Fuel Cell Technology
Hydrogen propulsion developer ZeroAvia is providing its High-temperature Proton Exchange Membrane hydrogen fuel cell technology for the PA-860. This will be integrated with four 125-hp electric motors with a two-stage gearbox to drive the main rotor and a 150-hp motor with a separate gearbox for the tail rotor.
With financial support from the U.S. Air Force, PiAC and ZeroAvia are preparing to start ground testing a 660-kilowatt propulsion system on a full-scale test stand. ZeroAvia acquired fuel cell specialist HyPoint, which had started the project with PiAC and has incrementally expanded its hardware from "mini stack" fuel cells to a full-scale 20-kilowatt stack. ZeroAvia is developing a family of hydrogen propulsion systems to convert existing twin-turboprop regional airliners.
PiAC said it opted for a hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system for the PA-890 over battery-electric and hybrid-electric technology based on its projections for the available specific power and energy density. The company also believes this choice will deliver lower direct operating costs and emissions as well as less noise.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony in Coatesville on May 31 was attended by PiAC’s industry partners, including ZeroAvia founder and CEO Val Miftakhov; Dan Crowley, CEO of aerostructures group Triumph; Martine Rothblatt, founder of the medical group United Therapeutics, which is sourcing new VTOL aircraft for transporting human organs; and Metro Aviation CEO Mike Stanberry. Also present were Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan, Pennsylvania’s community and economic development secretary Rick Siger, and Mike Hirschberg, executive director of the Vertical Flight Society.