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Aviation firm to refurbish Sea Dragon helicopters for Navy

Crewmembers of a U.S. Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter take part in a training exercise at Blackstone Army Airfield, Fort Pickett, Va., on Feb. 14, 2009.

Chuck Gill/U.S. Army

By Greg Stiles | Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore. (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 6, 2016

The aviation firm, Erickson, built its reputation manufacturing, maintaining and deploying heavy lift Sikorsky-64 helicopters. Now the company is using its expertise on the MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter, among the largest flown by the U.S. Navy.

Working as a subcontractor for Maryland-based defense contractor Adams Communication & Engineering Technologies, Erickson is refurbishing two MH-53E helicopters that have been parked in Tucson, Ariz., for years. The immediate impact was 10 new hires, said Jason Johnson, senior director of sales and business development.

"We had to increase manpower and reassign 20 technicians from other areas of the business to this program," Johnson said. "Overall, we've had a 25 percent increase in our (Medford airport) hangar staff. This is a significant shot in the arm for us and the community."

The Sea Dragon contract involves multiple stages of a complex refurbishment and is the first awarded by the Navy for depot-level maintenance of a MH-53E to a commercial contractor. The contract is for one year, with a one-year renewal option. Familiarity with Sikorsky drawing and specification systems on the S64 translated well into working on the H-53 aircraft designed in the same era.

Johnson said the Sea Dragons were grounded 10 years ago, parked at Davis–Monthan Air Force Base, also known as the aircraft boneyard.

"For one reason or another, the aircraft were taken out of service," Johnson said. "Now with escalation in one theater or another and combat zones, the military has a greater need for aircraft. So we're taking them, refurbishing them and putting them back in service."

The assemblies were shipped to Medford in November and are expected to be airworthy by the end of this year.

"We've hired a program manager to oversee the project to make sure we are on schedule, on time and one budget," Johnson said.

Erickson has an array of inventory for the job, which includes a new paint job. As components are completed, they will be sent east for inspection. Parts that don't pass the grade, Johnson said, will be removed or replaced and returned to Medford.

"Our primary mission is to return the aircraft to airworthiness," Johnson said.

When the Sea Dragons are ready, pilots will be dispatched to the Rogue Valley to put the helicopters through their paces over Southern Oregon.

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©2016 the Mail Tribune (Medford, Ore.)
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