New images of the Raider X prototype helicopter, which is armed with Hellfire missiles and a 20mm main gun, have just been released by Sikorsky, a subsidiary of the American aerospace, armaments, military, information security, and technology giant Lockheed Martin.
The Future αttαck Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) gambit from Sikorsky has been delivered to West Palm Beach, Florida, for testing. According to Jay Macklin, business development director for Sikorsky Army Programs and Innovations, Sikorsky has 98% of the parts required to complete the Raider and the entire aircraft is around 90% complete.
Our acceptance test processes have now completed more than half of them, Macklin stated. In a news conference on June 28, 2022, Macklin stated, “We’re working incredibly closely with the U.S. Army on the entire build, and they are extremely involved in every element of this and have been terrific colleagues.”
The fuselage is visible in the two published photos at the “FARA Country” hangar in West Palm Beach. The three-barreled main weαpσn is located beneath the chin of the aircraft. To reduce drag, the “modular effects launchers” of the helicopter can also be folded. According to Sikorsky, these pods can also accommodate air-launched drones.
In order to allow space for assault forces or the evacuation of casualties, these pods can be withdrawn as needed. The photographs don’t show any blades, but the aircraft has two primary rotor masts, one within the other. The tail boom is also missing its eight-bladed pusher prop. Also utilizing Sikorsky’s X2 technology is the Raider X.
Sikorsky’s initial S-97 Raider prototype acted as an 80 percent surrogate for the current 14,000-pound (6,350 kg) X version. However, the Raider X has a pointier nose and inverted landing gear compared to the S-97. Other than that, both are essentially the same aircraft. “The majority of the subsystems are installed on the aircraft and undergoing functionality testing,” said Pete Germanowski, Sikorsky’s chief FARA engineer. “A second fuselage is being built at a separate Sikorsky facility on Long Island, New York. That airframe should be loaded into a test frame in July and will undergo structural load testing,” he added.
Data collected from that testing will be used to clear the operational Raider X prototype for flight, Germanowski explained. Bell’s 360 Invictus, a single-main-rotor helicopter with a canted tail rotor, competes against Raider X at FARA. Built in Amarillo, Texas, the Invictus has, thus far, pretty much matched the Raider X throughout its development.
In fall 2023, the prototypes will compete in Army-hosted trials to see which will eventually win out. Whichever chopper wins, either aircraft will be powered by a General Electric T901 Improved Turbine Engine. The teams won’t receive these engines for another year, to give Sikorsky time to refine the Raider X design accordingly. FARA’s purpose is to replace some of the U.S. Army’s now aging helicopter fleet
With regard to its armed scout role, FARA plans to replace the now-retired and aging OH-58D Kiowa wαrriors. αttαck helicopters like the AH-64 Apache, MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and RQ-7 Shadow are now performing this duty. Many Army AH-64s could be replaced with FARA as well. S-97 has logged more than 100 flight hours since its debut in 2015 and has continued to fly often, Macklin informed reporters.
The S-97 has flown at more than 200 knots since its first flight in 2015, well beyond the top speeds of most rotorcraft. The Army wants its “Future Vertical Lift” family of advanced rotorcraft to have speed bursts, fast deceleration, and improved maneuverability, and its pusher prop offers these features. Many test pilots have been impressed by the Raider’s capacity to “pirouette” around a single point. The helicopter can also fly forwαrd with its snout up or backwαrd with its nose directed at the ground—quite a feat.
Another interesting feature of the Raider X is the fact that it can fly at peak speed while at a level position. A conventional helicopter must tilt its nose down to accelerate. This feat can be achieved thanks to the helicopter’s pusher propeller and inflexible, counter-spinning rotors that remove the need for a tail rotor. In forwαrd flight, the pusher prop can be actuated to reduce drag and improve speed and efficiency.
Raider’s blades generate lift on both sides of the aircraft as they rotate, unlike many other existing helicopters. Raider’s bigger brother, the Defiant X, is a 30,000-pound (13,608 kg) competitor for the Army’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program, which will replace parts of the UH-60 Black Hawk fleet once completed.
At present, the U.S. Army will pick between Defiant and Bell’s V-280 Valor in September. FARA and FLRAA are part of Future Vertical Lift (FVL), one of the Army’s six modernization goals. The two programs are the small and medium entrants 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 core design will be 100 years old. Under FVL, other services are also researching novel rotorcraft designs. Sikorsky’s next-generation designs have roughly double the speed of current helicopters, clean-sheet, open-system designs that should allow rapid updates, and upcoming technology.
Whether rotorcraft’s speed and maneuverability will be enough against foes with advanced air defenses is unknown. For example, conventional rotorcraft have suffered on both sides of the Ukrαine ωɑɾ, especially from man-portable air defense ωεɑρσռry (MANPADS).
Not only that, but by the time one of the proposed FARA designs hits production in the 2030s, another 10 years will have passed with air defense developments. The Army acknowledged future air defense threats when it first announced this program in 2019 and claimed this aircraft would be vital to breaking them. Whether or not the Raider X will come out on top is yet to be seen, but if all goes as planned, its flight capabilities should be on display a little over a year from now.
The US Army’s high speed helicopter Raider-X is now armed with Hellfire missiles