The Malaysian armed forces are looking for ways to fund an upgrade of their 28 Sikorsky S61 helicopters by the company that maintains them, Airod.
The maintenance firm, part of National Aerospace and Defense Industries, says it can improve reliability and performance while lowering running costs by fitting the aircraft with a glass cockpit, composite rotor blades and an improved transmission, all commercially available.
Payload with maximum fuel would rise by about 1.1 tons (2,400 lb.) thanks to the improved aerodynamic performance of the blades, their lighter weight and the removal of mechanical gauges and heavy wiring, say Airod executives, who are working with Australian S61 upgrade specialist Vector Aerospace.
Underlying the proposal is the assumption that Malaysia needs but cannot afford more medium transport helicopters than the 12 Eurocopter EC725 Cougars that it last year decided to buy for 1.6 billion ringgit ($470 million). Even that order has been delayed, apparently because the government is short of funds.
No formal proposal has been submitted but, according to one industry executive, the air force regards the upgrade as an obvious move, the only issue being to find the budget. Airod has not disclosed how much the modernization would cost.
The new blades would come from Carson Helicopters, the five main cockpit displays from Sagem, and the weather radar, navigation and communications systems from Garmin. Rockwell Collins would supply the attitude and heading reference system and a mode S transponder for the upgrade, which would have a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration supplementary type certificate.
The S61s, known locally as Nuris, have a bad reputation in the Malaysian media because of crashes that Airod says were often caused by inadequate equipment. The helicopters have flown 8,000 to 13,000 hours each.