Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite May/June 2023
Steven Schmidt
Vice President and Chief Engineer, Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company

On the 100th anniversary of Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company, Steve Schmidt calls on approximately 3,500 engineers to support the helicopter maker’s products and future developments. “About 3,000 of those engineers report directly to me,” he explained. “Probably another 500 or so are from other Lockheed Martin business areas. They’re well integrated into our team, and we’re all supporting the business together.” Schmidt observed, “I tell people ‘always build your network.’ You never know who’s going to help you. Plus, it’s our responsibility to bring up the engineers behind us.”
Sikorsky’s vice president and chief engineer for engineering and technology noted, “One of the benefits we have being part of Lockheed Martin is the depth of talent across the organization.”

The talent spans engineering disciplines. “I would say the balance has been pretty even over the years, although we are focused on certain disciplines we’re trying to develop. For example, our autonomy and artificial intelligence engineers have become very important to us. Our electrical team with the electric aircraft is also important. Model-based systems engineering has been a discipline we’ve been developing. Over the last year, we’ve trained well over 200 engineers specifically in model-based design and definition.”

Schmidt continued, “The other area we focus on is structures and those types of disciplines.” He observed, “I think additive manufacturing is going to be a great capability for us at Sikorsky.

We’re going to have 200 additive parts flying on aircraft in the very near future. Today, a lot of them are non-structural parts — junction boxes, ducts, heat exchangers — but we’re quickly moving into more structural components, [made] out of both polymers and metals. We do see in the future producing dynamic parts out of metals using additive manufacturing. I think we can save maybe 85% of the lead-time on the part and 50% on the cost of the component since it is easier to produce that part.”

Sikorsky assigns chief engineers to execute helicopter programs and functional directors to oversee people, processes and technologies. Schmidt explained, “The people who are assigned to programs in the chief engineer organization, generally they’re assigned for three to four years on a specific program and then they look for something different to do. I encourage rotations throughout our engineering organization as well as throughout our Lockheed organization because it develops a better overall engineer. I especially encourage this with our younger engineers to make sure they understand the business well.”
Schmidt added, “The other program we have is our intern program. That’s been a really incredible source of talent for us.
We probably have about 140 to 150 interns a year. Most of our interns come from the University of Maryland, Georgia Tech, Penn State, the University of Connecticut, Wooster Polytechnic and Rensselaer. We put them through a really nice program where they meet with senior leadership to learn about our business. We find a lot of them stay and want to work here full-time.”

Family Business
Steve Schmidt celebrated 30 years at Sikorsky on April 1 and acknowledged, “My roots in Connecticut run really, really deep.
I grew up in Hamden, Connecticut. I went to the University of Connecticut. When I married my wife of 27 years, we moved to Shelton, Connecticut.” The Stratford executive found his passion for engineering early. “I was always a kind of a tinkerer, and I always loved the outdoors. My friends and I rode all-terrain vehicles, so we were always fixing and tinkering with them. I remember working around the yard building stone walls and pool houses with my dad.”

Steven Schmidt, Sr., began his engineering career in the Sikorsky advanced design group and retired as vice president of the Black Hawk program. “My dad was the biggest influence in my life as far as my interest in engineering. He worked for Sikorsky for 42 years, and for part of my dad’s career, he worked in the development center here at Sikorsky. If he had to go in on a Saturday morning, he’d bring me along and once in a while go in the hangar to check out an aircraft and talk to the folks working on it. I think that’s how I got into engineering and how I ended up here at Sikorsky.”

The tradition continues. “I’m very proud that my son started at Sikorsky a little less than a year ago. He’s working in manufacturing engineering on the CH-53K line here in Stratford. I think the fun thing about working here is you’re able to learn something new every single day.”

Though himself the son of a mechanical engineer, Steve Schmidt earned his undergraduate degree in chemical and materials engineering. “My chemistry teacher in high school made things really interesting, so at the time I went to college, that was something that fascinated me. I liked materials and processes and working in the labs at the University of Connecticut.” The focus fit Sikorsky. “I started in our materials and process [M&P] group, a great way to know the business. A lot of the M&P engineers were working up-front with the designers. I learned supplier processes and a lot about the components of the aircraft. I quickly realized a mechanical engineering degree was pretty important, so soon after I started here I started going nights at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute to get my master’s degree.”

Design engineering led Schmidt to work on the first VH-92 Presidential helicopter replacement proposal, derived from Sikorsky’s civil S-92. “I worked with a lot of former commanding officers of [Marine Squadron] HMX-1 who came to Sikorsky, and I remember briefing HMX-1, the White House Military Office and the Secret Service to show we had an aircraft to do the mission. Unfortunately, we lost at that time, but I often tell that story because I learned so much about what it takes to execute a program and about our proposal process. Now, we’re delivering VH-92 aircraft today.”

Schmidt became chief system engineer on the Canadian Maritime Helicopter Program (CMHP), a marinized fly-by-wire derivative of the S-92, in 2005. “I was on the CMHP twice. As chief system engineer, I was able to lead the program from preliminary design review to critical design review to first flight.” A tour as senior program manager for the US Navy MH-60S in 2009 extended to the multi-sensor MH-60R, working with Lockheed Martin in Owego, New York. “I went to the Naval Hawk program and came back to CMHP to deliver the first Block 1 aircraft to Canada. I enjoyed working with our Canadian customer. They allowed us to go out on the ship with them — they called it a Salty Dip — to see how they operated with the Sea King at the time.”

A stint as director of design working on multiple programs to include the Army UH-60M Black Hawk led Schmidt to become the chief engineer on the Marine Corps CH-53K program in 2018. “I’ve had a lot of great mentors over my career. In the past five or six years, Mike Ambrose, my predecessor in this role, had the biggest influence on my career. He’s one of the people who got me into being a director in aircraft design. He’s also the one who asked me to be the chief engineer on the CH-53K. It was admittedly a tough time — there were a number of technical challenges.”

The heavy-lift replacement helicopter integrated fly-by-wire flight controls, hybrid composite structures and engine and transmission advances in a digital design environment. “The exhaust gas reingestion problem was solved while I was chief engineer. The reason that was solved is because we had a great team and a great relationship with [the US Navy’s] Naval Air Systems Command. That was the first time that we were able to use our digital transformation tools to put together the digital thread to solve a major problem.”

Schmidt explained, “At the time we were doing our CFD [computational fluid dynamics], we were running over 70,000 computer cores on a number of configurations. When we got the leading contender, we were able to use our digital thread and build components for the test aircraft. Once we got the parts on the aircraft, the first configuration we picked was the one we decided to go with. We saved a significant amount of flight test with our digital tools. I expect us to see a significant block-shift in the way we build aircraft using our digital thread with the single source of truth all the way from the up-front design, through production build, to support in the fleet with a digital twin.”

Schmidt recalled, “When I first came into Sikorsky, there was only one computer for our M&P group, and I remember having to wait your turn in order to write your report. The S-92 was one of the first designs we did fully digital in CATIA. The ‘53K is fully digital, and we have digital work instructions in the factory, which is helping us come down the learning curve very quickly on that build. We have to continue our digital transformation journey to reduce our cost and schedule. The other part is designs are getting more and more complex. You have discovery in test. I’d love to reduce discovery significantly using our digital tools.”

Pillars of Progress
Sikorsky is holding to its technology pillars for future developments — speed, autonomy and intelligence. Schmidt said, “We are continuing to improve our crew situational awareness through autonomy. We have our X2 technology for speed and maneuverability. Those are still our focus areas and part of our strategy. We have added in an electric systems pillar. We’ve announced that Sikorsky is developing a hybrid-electric, fully autonomous vertical takeoff and landing prototype aircraft [see “The State of the Civil Helicopter Industry: Heli-Expo 2023,” pg. 18]. We see this around the 7,000-lb [3.2-metric-ton] gross weight class. We’re going to understand the novel control system, the control architectures that we need. We want this aircraft to fly over 500 nm [925 km] and plan to demonstrate that capability for our customers. It is being run out of our Innovations group.”

Schmidt was elected to the VFS Board of Directors last year and is a longtime active member of the Society. “It was very soon after I started at Sikorsky that I joined. The fascinating thing is listening to all of the industry leaders. I’m still amazed at the number of people who have retired from the industry but stay so involved with VFS and the opportunities that it gives young engineers to learn.” He concluded, “It’s our responsibility to figure out what’s next for the company. I appreciate the success we have today because the leaders who came before us set us up for that success.”