Piasecki Aircraft Corporation (PiAC) has made a significant move in the field of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft by acquiring Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky Heliplex facility in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.
The 219,000-square-foot site, previously used for helicopter production, will now serve as PiAC’s research and development hub for VTOL aircraft and unmanned aerial systems. This strategic acquisition aims to pave the way for PiAC’s PA-890 hydrogen-powered helicopter program, with a technology demonstrator expected to take flight by the end of this year.
The PA-890 helicopter holds great promise for various applications, including emergency medical flights, logistics, and passenger transportation. PiAC is also actively involved in the military market, working on the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System tilt-duct optionally crewed VTOL vehicle and the Adaptive Digital Automated Pilotage Technology flight control system.
Lockheed Martin’s decision to close the Sikorsky Heliplex in 2022 resulted in job losses, but PiAC’s acquisition brings renewed hope. The company plans to reopen the facility in the fall, creating around 400 new jobs by 2028. PiAC’s choice to establish the hub in Coatesville was influenced by the region’s strong ties to the helicopter industry, skilled workforce, and robust supplier network.
The PA-890 helicopter’s development involves collaboration with five undisclosed prospective customers to refine operational requirements. PiAC has also formed a working group with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation to develop the G-1 certification basis for the aircraft. It will adhere to existing Part 27 and 29 requirements.
Powering the PA-890 is ZeroAvia’s High-temperature Proton Exchange Membrane hydrogen fuel cell technology. This advanced propulsion system combines four 125-horsepower electric motors for the main rotor and a 150-horsepower motor for the tail rotor. ZeroAvia, with support from the U.S. Air Force, is preparing to conduct ground testing of a 660-kilowatt propulsion system.
PiAC’s choice of a hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system over battery-electric and hybrid-electric alternatives is driven by the projected specific power and energy density, anticipated cost savings, reduced emissions, and lower noise levels.
The recent ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Coatesville facility marked a milestone for PiAC, attended by industry partners such as ZeroAvia, Triumph CEO Dan Crowley, United Therapeutics founder Martine Rothblatt, Metro Aviation CEO Mike Stanberry, and representatives from government and aviation organizations.
Piasecki Aircraft’s acquisition and its ambitious hydrogen-powered helicopter program demonstrate the company’s commitment to advancing VTOL technology and contributing to the future of sustainable aviation. With its research and development hub now established, PiAC is poised to make significant strides in the vertical lift market, delivering transformative solutions to both defense and commercial sectors.