Sikorsky celebrates the helicopter that saved the company

STRATFORD -- No tricks. Only treats at Sikorsky Aircraft on Halloween.

In recognition of the first delivery of the Black Hawk helicopter 40-years-ago on Halloween, Sikorsky celebrated the chopper that has meant most to the company's growth.

As a result of its assault, medical evacuation and utility capabilities, the Black Hawk has been called the world's most versatile helicopter.

Among the guests attending the Wednesday morning celebration was Ray Leoni, a retired Sikorsky engineer, who was largely credited with designing the Black Hawk beginning in the late 1960's.

"To produce something of value for the company and for the world, I’m just proud to have been part of it," said Leoni.

Now retired from Sikorsky for 26 years, Leoni is among those who believe award of the Black Hawk contract, by the U.S. Army, saved the company in December of 1976.

"In fact, in 1976, we didn’t deliver a single helicopter to the US government for the first time in our history that that happened," said Leoni.

"When it was announced we won the contract, it was just chaotic," said Joe D’Amato, a mechanic and inspector, who has worked at Sikorsky for 51 years. "Everybody was just ecstatic throughout the whole factory."

Because the contract meant stability, finally.

"People could plan their future, get married, buy a house, raise a family. You know, they knew they had job stability," D'Amato said.

The feeling company-wide was pride.

"Knowing that, you know, you made this aircraft, it’s out saving lives, keeping our country free," D'Amato added.

There are roughly 4,000 Black Hawks presently in service worldwide.

"10 million fleet flight hours on the helicopter, which is an amazing number," said Dana Fiatarone, a Sikorsky Vice President. "I mean, it’s, it truly is the backbone of U.S. Army aviation."

And Army Col. William Jackson concurs.

"When I see this helicopter, my heart races just a little bit," said Jackson.

There is quite a Leoni legacy at Sikorsky. Aside from the long retired Ray, his two sons have both been engineers there. And now, his granddaughter is a buyer for the company.