Sikorsky Aircraft’s “big bet” on future vertical lift, the S-97 Raider, flew for the first time this morning on “quite the aggressive" flight test card.
Sikorsky Aircraft's S-97 RAIDER(TM) helicopter achieved successful first flight at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., May 22, 2015. Photo courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation
The aircraft took off at about 7:00 a.m. local time at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. for a planned 30-minute-plus flight to explore the new design’s airworthiness in the low-speed flight environment. Instead, S-97 Chief Pilot Bill Fell flew the coaxial, rigid-rotor aircraft for roughly an hour at a top speed of 10 knots, executing three takeoffs and landings as well as forward, rearward and lateral flight. The aft propulsor was not engaged. Co-pilot Kevin Bredenbeck, who was chief pilot for the 250-knot X2 Technology Demonstrator on which the S-97 is based, said the flight test work “picked up like the X2 program ended.” The last X2 flight was in July 2011. Bredenbeck said it was “quite the aggressive test card for a first flight for a helicopter.” Among the factors that made it aggressive was a first flight with within about three months of first ground tests in February and completion of a full range of domain testing for the natural frequencies of key components like the S-97’s drive train and rotor system, which the team said is considered high-risk testing and not always an element of a first flight test.
“We really placed a big bet here,” said Mark Miller, Sikorsky vice president of research and engineering. Part of that bet is that the S-97’s “game-changing capabilities” will “open some eyes and change some thoughts on how soon they’d like to introduce this inventory” of the U.S. Army and special operations forces. Winning outcomes of that bet could include a special ops application, a new plan for the Army’s armed aerial scout (a role now tasked to the AH-64 Apache) or “or a Future Vertical Lift light” that could be fielded earlier than the planned 2030 time frame for that program.
Related: Flight Testing News