|Sikorsky President Jeff Pino unveils the S-97 Raider in late October.
Joy Finnegan Photo
Sikorsky Aircraft has uncovered plans to build two prototype light tactical helicopters (LTHs) based on the X2 Technology demonstrator that unofficially claimed the helicopter world speed record in September, reaching 250 knots (288 mph) at the company’s Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. President Jeffrey Pino said that having proven the X2 design as a company, “we have full confidence we can now mature the technology for the U.S. Army’s light armed reconnaissance helicopter size.” Self-funding the design of a new LTH, the Sikorsky S-97, and manufacturing two Raider prototypes, he continued, “will help military aviation evaluate the viability of a fast and maneuverable next-generation rotorcraft for a variety of combat missions.”
Sikorsky submitted an X2 aircraft design to the Army’s Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) program in March 2010, responding to a request for information. Similar to the X2 demonstrator that topped the speed record, the S-97 Raider prototypes will feature twin coaxial counter-rotating main rotors and a pusher propeller. Pino said that as a company, Sikorsky watched over the years as four major helicopter programs under development in the Department of Defense disappeared: the armed reconnaissance helicopter that Bell had won; the presidential helicopter that Lockheed Martin had won; an emerging requirement for the CH-47 possibly to go to the Air Force; and the CH-53K Marine heavy lift, which Sikorsky won. “And for whatever reason, budgets, lack of execution, three of those programs are gone. ARH was gone. VH was gone. CSAR cancelled. Only one is left and we’ve got it—thank God—CH-53K. It sent a bigger message to us at Sikorsky,” said Pino. “It said that at this point in the life cycle, it appears that our biggest customer is unwilling to invest major dollars in future technology. That’s the real message it sent us.” Therefore, the company decided to move forward on its own. “We understand that the government is moving forward with an industry coalition to develop these kinds of ideas and we will continue to participate in that coalition,” he said. “But clearly, we want to go a little faster than we would assume any coalition would go.”
Pino said that Sikorsky will build two S-97 Raiders “mostly on our own company funding. We have not asked nor received one dime from the Federal government in any way, shape or form. And we like that at this stage.” Although Pino did note later that Sikorsky would be looking to its partners to take on 25 to 30 percent of the funding. For the armed reconnaissance mission, the S-97 Raider will have space aft of the two-pilot cockpit for armament and auxiliary fuel. In an assault configuration, the cabin affords space to accommodate up to six fully loaded 320-pound troops.
In addition to flying at nearly twice the speed of a conventional helicopter, the Raider prototype will incorporate other key performance parameters critical to combat operations—increased maneuverability, greater endurance, and the ability to operate at high altitudes. According to Sikorsky, the prototypes will feature reduced turning radius and acoustic noise signature, while significantly increasing payload, flight endurance and hot and high hover capability compared to other light military helicopters.
The 9,000-pound basic aircraft, which will be able to lift 10,500 pounds, will be 33 feet long and carry two crew members side-by-side. The flight controls will be fly-by-wire. “[It will have] about a 2.7-hour endurance right on top of current capability, but the idea is if you are not going to carry these troops, we will build this aircraft to carry additional fuel and/or a second load of ammunition so that the mission flexibility is increased to the point where if it were all fuel, we think we could put five or six hours on a station,” said Pino. Sikorsky will conduct the S-97 Raider development program according to military standards. The company expects the first major milestone in the program,—a preliminary design review—in 2011. First flight, projected in four years, could depend in part on the pace of development and customer need. “We have a team that’s assembled under Sikorsky Innovations who are fully charged to build, design and fly within 50 months,” said Pino. (From December 2010 Rotorcraft Report)