Vibration level was moderate — acceptable but not great — although Barnes pointed out that the test aircraft only had one vibration suppression unit, whereas standard S-76Ds would likely have three or four, reducing vibration levels much further.
We climbed to 2,000 ft. holding 100 kt. in the climb, then accelerated to 130 kt. and engaged VNAV and RNAV (airspeed and area) to hold us on a steady course and altitude.
An assortment of charts is available to the pilot on the digital map (DMAP) display, to include Jeppesen approach charts and Thales multifunction moving maps. Barnes pulled up a vector chart to demonstrate the aircraft's flight path control. He simulated a large storm cell directly between our points A and B, then used the cursor control to mark a point to the right of the storm cell. The aircraft automatically turned toward that mark. He then remarked the original Point B, noting that when the aircraft reached the new point in space, it would automatically track to Point B, avoiding the storm. This was all done using the trackball and pushing a single button.
Sikorsky initially installed the Honeywell Primus 440 weather radar on its S-76s but discovered customers were replacing that with the 660 system. So, the Primus 660 is now the standard weather radar for the S-76D. The Thales system also offers XM Weather for on-screen satellite weather service as an option. Also available as an option is ADS-B and GPS precision approach capabilities.
To test basic flight characteristics, we took the aircraft up to its 155 kt. Vne, pulling only 50%. Barnes noted that while Vne is 155 kt., because of the efficiency of the Pratt & Whitney engines, maximum cruise speed for best range is 154 kt. He also noted that Sikorsky already has the data to expand the 155 kt. Vne limit “down the road.”
For steep turns, Barnes “beeped” the aircraft over into a 30-deg. angle of bank and put it on automatic hold. The aircraft held steady at 110 kt., pulling only 40% torque. The 30-deg. angle of bank is the maximum for automatic hold. That can be manually overridden to allow up to a 60-deg. bank — with a warning voice letting you know when you are reaching power limits.
Virtually all aspects of the flight can be done using the push-button controls on the autopilot control panel (APCP) located directly behind the trackball housing on the center console.
Barnes programed a flight plan for the approach back to Sikorsky's field and then coupled in the heading, airspeed and altitude using the push buttons on the APCP. The aircraft flew itself to the ILS and then automatically transitioned to ILS mode. The navigation, glideslope and deceleration commands are coupled to the primary commands in the autopilot, allowing the aircraft to fly hands-off down to the runway.
Repair work was being performed on the approach end of the runway, so we had to take over and land manually. However, by engaging VHLD and plunging the trim switch, you can program the system so that the aircraft descends to a specific altitude and comes to a hover over a specific spot, still hands off.