Dreams Take Flight
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to fly a helicopter. There’s something magical and visceral about them. You can feel the rotors thumping throughout your whole body. You fly with both arms, both legs, both eyes, and both ears. The aircraft becomes an unforgiving extension of your body.
My dad owned a low-wing KR-2 that he had built in our garage, and I learned to fly fixed wing at age 14, even before I could drive a car. Fast forward a few years later, and I was an Army cadet itching to get into the cockpit of an Apache or a Cobra. I took the AFAST (Alternate Flight Aptitude Selection Test) and scored well. Well enough for the Army to send me for a flight physical. It was there that I became a “no-go.” My vision was good enough to shoot but not to fly for the military. It just wasn’t in the cards.
That’s OK, though; I logged lots of passenger time in my career and never lost my love of military helicopters. That’s why I’m so excited to tell you about the Raider X; a candidate to be the Army’s newest high-speed Hellfire-equipped helicopter.
FARA – way
Maybe you’ve heard of FARA. According to the official website of the US Army, army.mil, FARA is the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program. It was initiated as a subprogram of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative to develop a replacement for the Kiowa scout helicopter. Not to go too far down the rabbit hole, but in regards to the FVL, imagine something like the V-22 Osprey, but without so many problems.
A walkaround and a brief description of the Raider X. Video courtesy of YouTube and DefAero Report
Test pilot Bill Fell tells us about the S-97 Raider. What you see above is “aircraft 1”. It flew a total of 20 hours and then was retired. Nevertheless, it served as proof of concept that something with all of those blades cutting through the air could actually become airborne. You’ll notice that in addition to a set of stacked counterrotating rotor blades, there is a pusher prop that sends the aircraft to a top speed of a little above 200 knots. As a point of reference, the VNE, or never exceeded on a typical Black Hawk helicopter, is 193 knots with cruising speeds in the mid-150s.
Fell describes the “airplane-like” feature of the Raider; there are elevators and rudders on the tail. These are used as control surfaces mainly in higher-speed flight. He explains how in low-speed flight, the pilot uses the difference in torque between the main rotors to coordinate turns. It’s pretty ingenious. To quote an ominous line from “Lone Survivor” as they were planning their ill-fated mission, “lots of moving parts.”
As you look at the Raider, it may occur to you that something is missing. Maybe you can’t put your finger on it at first. There is a pusher-prop but no anti-torque (tail) rotor. This is because the two main rotors turn in opposite directions, negating the need for an anti-torque rotor in the back.
We see that Raider is configured to carry six troops in the rear. In a pinch, the seats could be removed and the bay utilized to carry a casualty or two. Obviously, this is not primarily a troop transport vehicle; this is a reconnaissance and attack aircraft.
This July 2022 video is made available courtesy of YouTube and HBB Defense Military. It shows the aircraft with weapons systems emplaced.
The video offers us some good views of the aircraft at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach, FL, testing facility. In it, we see the platform loaded out with hellfire missiles and a chin-mounted three-barreled 20mm main cannon. The weapons pods (shown above in the open position) can also be used to launch drones or be closed to make the helicopter more aerodynamic.
According to Pete Germanowski, Sikorsky’s chief FARA engineer, “The majority of the subsystems are installed on the aircraft and undergoing functionality testing.” He added, “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.”
Not the Only Game in Town
Bell’s entry into the FARA competition, according to HBB Defense Military, is the Bell 360 Invictus. This design has a single rotor and a canted tail rotor. In my mind, it wins in the looks department right off the bat; but looks aren’t what is important here. Performance is.
Next Fall, prototypes of both helicopters will go head to head to see who will be tapped to replace the aging Bell OH-58 Kiowa.
May the best chopper win.