The Big, Bargain-Priced Sikorsky S-92A

Fly like the President—well, almost—in the capacious helicopter model that will soon enter service as the new Marine One.

Want to fly like the President of the United States for a fraction of the price? Right now, you can buy a lightly used Sikorsky S-92A “Helibus”—the same helicopter that’s about to enter service as the new Marine One, with a stand-up cabin big enough for 19 passengers—for as little as $6 million. That’s a mere one-fifth the price of a stock new helicopter and just one-36th of the $215 million the government is paying for each of approximately two dozen copies.

Granted, those aircrafts’ interiors have been completely redone to incorporate defensive and communications systems required by the President and Secret Service. But chances are you can do without those extras (which you couldn’t buy, anyway), which means you can have essentially the same helicopter for a couple of hundred million dollars less.

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As for the deep discounts on used models, those are thanks in part to years’-long distress in the offshore oil patch, where most of them are flown, transporting goods and personnel to energy platforms at locales from the Americas to Australia, from the North Sea to Nigeria. This commercial conflagration came to a crescendo last summer when 39 of these helicopters—19 percent of the global fleet—were placed in long-term parking/storage due to lack of demand. And flying hours for those still in the air dropped 27 percent.

Not surprisingly, leasing companies, which own well over half the fleet of more than 300, moved in to repurpose the idled aircraft, whose prices had slid down in some cases below $4 million. That effort was only partially successful, generating a modest price recovery. The largest owner of the type, lessor Milestone Aviation, was forced to take a $729 million charge last year, largely on the decline in value of its S-92 fleet. And today, a used S-92 is still an amazing deal when you consider that a new one will set you back a cool $32 million-plus interior.  

Sikorsky S-92 Interior
Sikorsky S-92 Interior

A Massive Model

The helicopter, which Sikorsky began delivering to customers in 2004, is a beast. It weighs in at just under 28,000 pounds fully loaded—several thousand pounds more than the empty weight of a super-medium-sized business jet. The diameter of the main rotor disk is 56 feet, four inches. Counting the massive four main rotor blades, stem to stern the aircraft measures 68 feet, six inches. 

The engine exhaust is so hot it has been known to singe lawns, and the massive main rotor blades can send anything close by that isn’t bolted down skyward. When an S-92 arrives, you know it—it’s about as obtrusive as a heavy metal band in Grandma’s parlor, with one of the highest noise profiles for approach, takeoffs, and flyovers of any modern commercial helicopter as measured by both the FAA and the International Civil Aviation Organization. Yet inside the aircraft, particularly one outfitted for executive transport, it is relatively quiet, and the ride is smooth. 

The capacious cabin measures 20 feet long, six feet wide, and six feet tall, yielding 700 cubic feet, followed by an aft 140-cubic-foot baggage compartment that is bigger than those in some large business jets and can hold 1,000 pounds. An enormous rear ramp expedites the loading of both regular and outsized cargo. 

All that cabin space allows for the same kind of outfitting that you would find in a large bizjet—big single executive seats, private lavatory, wet bar, and a galley. In fact, several S-92s have been so equipped by billionaires and heads of state. Sikorsky claims they are flying government leaders in approximately 10 countries. Other owners have included New York investor Ira Rennert and the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon of South Korea. (In 2008, Moon and 15 others survived a weather-related hard landing and subsequent fire aboard their S-92 with relatively minor injuries. Investigators later attributed the accident to pilot error.) S-92s have been modified to fly diverse missions from civil search and rescue in the U.K. to the Canadian air force’s CH-148 Cyclone, kitted for anti-submarine warfare and intended to serve aboard frigates in very cold water. 

Sikorsky S-92
Sikorsky S-92

Impressive Speed and Range

The standard S-92A zips along at 151 knots and has a ceiling of 15,000 feet and a range of 480 nautical miles. (That’s with the standard fuel capacity of 760 gallons and 30-minute reserves; auxiliary fuel can increase range to more than 700 nautical miles.) Power comes from a pair of GE CT7-8A turboshaft engines that collectively generate more than 5,000 horsepower. The CT7 is a derivative of the T700 series engines that power military helicopters, including the Army’s Apache gunship. 

The two-pilot crew has the benefit of a full suite of glass panel avionics based on time-tested Collins architecture that is compatible with the latest safety features, including four-axis autopilot, a helicopter terrain awareness and warning system (H-TAWS), MultiScan weather radar, a traffic alert collision avoidance system (TCAS II), and helicopter synthetic vision. The S-92 also features Sikorsky’s “Rig Approach” technology, which allows instrument approaches to be flown automatically to offshore platforms and oil rigs in poor weather. 

Sikorsky plans to offer a menu of substantial upgrades for the S-92—known as the “A+” package—beginning in 2023. That package includes a new main gearbox, an increased gross weight kit, and uprated GE engines that offer better high and hot performance. These options will be rolled out as they become available, according to the company. 

Meanwhile, if all goes according to schedule, President Biden should start flying in his new Marine One S-92, military designation VH-92A, later this year. But you can get one that looks like it right now. Paint it the right shade of green and hardly anyone will notice the difference. 

Just don’t expect the neighbors to salute.


2011 Sikorsky S-92A at a Glance

Price new: $24.9 million

Price used:  $6.55 million*

Engines: 2 GE CT7-8A, 2,520 shp each

Avionics: Collins 

Crew: 2 

Passengers: 8–14, VIP/executive; 19. utility 

Range: 480 nm with 30-minute reserves

Cruising speed: 151 kt 

Cabin

            Length: 20 ft

            Width: 6 ft 

            Height: 6 ft 

Baggage compartment: 140 cu ft 

Maximum takeoff weight: 26,500 lb*

*typically equipped with VIP interior

**27,700 lb with gross weight expansion kit

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