Sikorsky, a company owned by the U.S. aerospace, arms, defense, information security, and technology company Lockheed Martin, just released new photos of its Raider X prototype helicopter with Hellfire missiles and a 20mm main gun.
Sikorsky’s plan for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program of the U.S. Army has been sent to West Palm Beach, Florida, for testing. Jay Macklin, business development director for Sikorsky Army Programs and Innovations, says that Sikorsky has 98 percent of the parts needed to finish the Raider, and the whole plane is about 90 percent done.
Macklin said, “Our acceptance test procedures are more than half done.” Macklin said at a press conference on June 28, 2022, “We’re working very closely with the U.S. Army on the whole build. They’re very involved in every part of it and have been great partners.”
The two pictures that were put out show the fuselage at a hangar in West Palm Beach called “FARA Country.” The main gun, which has three barrels, is under the plane’s chin. The “modular effects launchers” on the helicopter can also be folded up to save drag. Sikorsky says that these pods can also carry drones that can be launched from the air.
These pods can be taken out if space is needed for assault troops or to get injured people to safety.
The plane has two main rotor masts, one inside the other, but the pictures don’t show any blades. The pusher prop, which has eight blades, is also missing from the tail boom.
Sikorsky’s X2 technology is also used in the Raider X.
Sikorsky’s first S-97 Raider prototype was like the current 14,000-pound (6,350 kg) X version 80 percent of the time. The Raider X, on the other hand, has a nose that is more pointed and landing gear that is turned upside down. Aside from that, they are both pretty much the same plane.
Pete Germanowski, Sikorsky’s chief FARA engineer, said, “Most of the subsystems are installed on the plane and are being tested to make sure they work.”
“At a different Sikorsky facility on Long Island, New York, a second fuselage is being made. In July, that plane’s frame will be put into a test frame and put through structural load testing “he added.
Germanowski said that the data from those tests will be used to give the operational Raider X prototype the go-ahead to fly.
At FARA, Bell’s 360 Invictus, which has a single main rotor and a tail rotor that is tilted, goes up against Raider X. So far, the Invictus, which was built in Amarillo, Texas, has been pretty much the same as the Raider X.
In the fall of 2023, the prototypes will compete in tests run by the Army to see which one will win. Regardless of which helicopter wins, both will have a General Electric T901 Improved Turbine Engine. The teams won’t get these engines for another year so that Sikorsky has time to improve the design of the Raider X.
The goal of FARA is to replace some of the U.S. Army’s old helicopters. For example, FARA wants to replace the armed scout role of the OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, which are now too old and have been retired. Attack helicopters like the RQ-7 Shadow, MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and AH-64 Apache do this job right now. FARA could also take the place of a lot of Army AH-64s.
Macklin told reporters that since its first flight in 2015, S-97 has logged more than 100 flight hours and is still in use. Since its first flight in 2015, the S-97 has gone faster than 200 knots, which is a lot faster than most other rotorcraft can go.
Its pusher prop gives it speed bursts, quick deceleration, and better maneuverability, all of which the Army wants in its “Future Vertical Lift” family of advanced rotorcraft. Many test pilots have been impressed by the Raider’s ability to “pirouette” around a single point.
The helicopter can also fly forward with its nose pointed up or backward with its nose pointed at the ground.
Another interesting thing about the Raider X is that it can fly at its top speed even when it is sitting still. To speed up, a normal helicopter has to tilt its nose down. This is possible because the helicopter doesn’t need a tail rotor because it has a pusher propeller and rigid, counter-spinning rotors. When moving forward, the pusher prop can be turned on to reduce drag, speed up the plane, and make it more efficient. Unlike many other helicopters, Raider’s blades create lift on both sides of the plane as they turn. The Defiant X is the bigger brother of the Raider. It weighs 30,000 pounds (13,608 kg) and is a competitor for the Army’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program, which will eventually replace some of the UH-60 Black Hawk fleet.
At the moment, the U.S. Army will decide in September between the Defiant and Bell’s V-280 Valor.
Future Vertical Lift (FVL), which includes FARA and FLRAA, is one of the Army’s six modernization goals. The two programs are the small and medium parts of a plan to replace all of the Army’s rotorcraft fleets in the 2030s. The Army has no plans to replace the CH-47 Chinook until the 2060s, when its basic design will be 100 years old. Under FVL, other services are also looking into new designs for rotorcraft.
Sikorsky’s next-generation designs are about twice as fast as current helicopters. They also have clean-sheet, open-system designs that should make it easy to add new technology and make changes quickly.
It is unknown if the speed and maneuverability of rotorcraft will be enough to beat enemies with advanced air defenses. For example, both sides of the Ukraine war have had trouble with conventional rotorcraft, especially because of man-portable air defense weapons (MANPADS).
Not only that, but by the time one of the proposed FARA designs goes into production in the 2030s, another 10 years will have passed in air defense. When the Army first announced this program in 2019, it said that this plane would be a key part of stopping future air defense threats.
We don’t know yet if the Raider X will win, but if everything goes as planned, we should be able to see how well it can fly in a little over a year.