Sikorsky Aircraft and the U.S. Navy celebrated the delivery of the 300th Seahawk helicopter in Stratford Wednesday.
Off the East Coast of Africa patrolling for pirates, delivering humanitarian aid in Japan and supporting NATO missions in Libya, Rear Admiral Paul Grosklags, vice commander Naval Air Systems Command, said the Seahawk has become the first responder for the U.S. Navy, which is itself more and more the nation’s first responder.
“You are kicking butt,” Grosklags said, as hundreds of workers gathered in front of rows upon rows of Seahawks in various stages of completion at the factory on Main Street.
They learned there’s a potential contract extension that would bring about 576 more helicopters to the Stratford plant.
During the ceremony, Grosklags read comments from commanders in the field expressing their appreciation for the Seahawk.
Many workers expressed pride in their work and were especially glad to hear the report from the field during this time of war.
“It’s right in front of you every day,” said one line worker, of the war, that seems to too often get lost in news about a lackluster economy, political posturing and celebrity gossip.
“It’s a big deal,” said Tom Van Nostrand, a crew chief from Ansonia, as service mechanic James Kucharski, of East Haven, agreed. The two men combined have 58 years experience at Sikorsky. They work in the hangar making sure the helicopters are ready to perform.
Sikorsky is delivering two versions of the Seahawk, the MH-60 S, called the Sierra, and the MH-60R, called the Romeo. Wednesday market the 200th Sierra delivered and the 100th Romeo.
“One hundred is a big milestone for us,” said Kucharski, of the complex Romeo.
The Romeo is a sub hunter and contains what can best be described as highly evolved electronics. The Romeos are delivered to Lockheed Martin in Oswego, where the cockpit and those additional systems are added.
The Sierra’s provide search and rescue and transportation, as well as many other functions.
Dennis Jarvi, Sikorsky vice president for Navy and Marine Corps programs, also commended the workers.
“What you do every day makes this happen,” he said.
Both Jarvi and Grosklags said it was vitally important for helicopter systems to come in on time and on budget, tasks made harder in a world of rising materials costs and constrained budgets.
But Jarvi said after the ceremony that Sikorsky has been able to control costs largely through the maturation of the United Technologies Corp.’s Ace program, designed to trim costs through efficiency and rewarding workers for finding those efficiencies.
He and other Navy officers said costs can also be controlled through long-term contracts to allow the purchase of materials over a period of time.
During the ceremony, the Navy and Sikorsky announced they are beginning negotiations for an extension of a contract that could lead to 500 more helicopters for Sikorsky over the next five years.