Sikorsky Test Flies New Chopper as Parent Mulls Sale

Sikorsky flew for the first time its next-generation S-97 Raider helicopter, as its parent company mulls a possible sale of the 90-year-old rotorcraft-maker.

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. on Friday flew for the first time its next-generation light-attack helicopter, the S-97 Raider.

The test flight took place at the company’s developmental flight center in West Palm Beach, Florida. It comes as its parent company, United Technologies Corp., mulls a possible sale of the 90-year-old rotorcraft manufacturer.

The chopper’s coaxial design features counter-rotating rotor blades and a push propeller, among other innovations, that will allow it to fly much faster and farther than today’s choppers.

The Raider was initially designed to target a potentially $16 billion U.S. Army weapons acquisition program called the Armed Aerial Scout to replace the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, one of the smallest helicopters in the fleet. The service put the acquisition effort on hold due to budget restrictions.

But Sikorsky, which also makes the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and numerous other  aircraft, still plans to sell the coaxial design both domestically and internationally. The company, along with several dozen supplies, have spent tens of millions of dollars designing and developing the technology.

“The aircraft was rock solid,” test pilot Bill Fell said of the test flight, according to Sikorsky’s Twitter account.

“We were completely ready to take on this task & we hit it out of the park today,” chief engineer Andy Bernhard said in another Tweet.

While Sikorsky is one of the world’s largest helicopter-makers with $7.5 billion in annual sales, it has seen its defense and energy markets shrink amid the end of large-scale, U.S.-led ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a drop in global oil prices driven by surging U.S. production, according to an article this month in The Wall Street Journal.

“UTC is exploring strategic alternatives for Sikorsky, which could include a sale or spinoff,” spokesman John Moran told the newspaper.

The Raider, rolled out during a glitzy ceremony in October at the company’s hangar in Jupiter, Florida, is one of two built for demonstration purposes. Most of the flight testing will take place in 2015.

Sikorsky in 2010 and 2011 flew an experimental prototype of the design called the X2 that reached speeds of up to 250 knots, or 290 miles per hour. By comparison, the Kiowa Warrior has a top speed of about 120 knots, or 140 miles per hour.

Sikorsky has also teamed with Boeing Co., which helps make the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, in proposing the SB>1 Defiant, a larger coaxial design, for the Army’s Joint Multi-Role technology demonstrator program, or JMR.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Dfens

    The Army doesn't need actual flying helicopters. What they really need is more helicopter development programs. It's pretty much the same deal with tanks. Real tanks suck away funds that could clearly make a defense contractor more money if they were being spent on a new tank development program. What the hell, Toyota pickup trucks are good enough for the terrorists. Why should our soldiers expect better? Don't they know that what's really important is that defense contractor profits stay sky high.

    • RtrHead

      Dfens – This program is entirely funded by Sikorsky and its industry partners. No DOD $$ of any kind.

      • sdf

        You are mistaken. It is cost sharing.

      • Rtrhead

        No, it is not.

      • Dfens

        The way I understand it, the X-2 and the S-97 were developed by Sikorsky, but the Defiant is being proposed for the Army’s Joint Multi-Role technology demonstrator program, which will be the usual government funded development program . I was actually commenting on the fact that UT is looking to sell Sikorsky due to the fact that they aren't selling any helicopters. Hell, we just got out of two wars lasting 12 years, but they can't sell any helicopters? Seems kind of ridiculous. You'd think they'd be selling like hotcakes.

      • sferrin

        Shhhh. You think facts are appreciated on this blog? Please.

    • Steve

      A Toyota pickup works for terrorists? Sure, against unarmed or poorly trained ground troops. The point of having better armed and better aircraft is so you can take out lots of those Toyota's without getting your own people killed. I've been in 3 wars and I seriously appreciate the advances in vertical lift machines.

      • Dfens

        Yes, me too. Especially this one. I'm just a little jaded by this whole war we seem to have being waged against actual operating weapons by these defense contractors who seem to have waaaaay too much power when it comes to getting their pet development program of the decade or quarter century funded at the expense of our military having actual operating weapons. The SR-71 was too expensive and now it is parked in museums, and now the A-10 is the next designated target. We don't want to actually keep the tank assembly line open, because we've apparently got no use for those anymore. We don't have adequate funds to train our troops or actually let them fly or shoot or drive anything. We can't afford to pay them or give them decent health care. But we can afford the F-35 program.

  • Lance

    I do agree this should not replace the Blackhawk but needed to future research into new classes of helicopters.

    • M1A1

      It will replace the Black-hawk & the Apache as far as rotor type fighting aircraft is concerned, The speed alone will be the kicker. I know we spend a lot on R&D but we need more powerful equipment if we are to keep up with other nations. If we let Sikorsky sell this to any other country's well that's just a bad move on our part. Even our so called allies will buy these things up like gold. WE NEED TO TURN UP THE HEAT! Stop letting the POTUS spend money on other country's and leaving us with week old bread.

  • Mick

    Based on that small, non-detailed picture… it seems like they could use the basic design and outline and just expand the cab, making a faster Blackhawk replacement (cruising speed 120-140 knots, top speed 190 knots).

    Then make a smaller attack one…

    This might be a better way for the military to achieve vertical takeoff/landing, but with fast forward flight at airpline-like speeds… maybe a better choice than tilt-rotor, osprey-like designs? Time will tell I guesss.

    • Christopher

      It's already further along then the Osprey ever was in by the time the Marines adopted the V-22.

      Sikorsky already have a base design. The Defiant and S-97 are derived from the X-2. All though it's too small to put weapons unlike the military choppers.

      • Curt

        I guess you never heard of the XV-15

      • sferrin

        Consider what site you're on. I get the impression that 95% of the people posting here are in between rounds of Call of Duty.

      • Curt

        Just to clarify, the X2 flew for a grand total of 23hrs. There were 2 XV-15s that flew for over a decade and literally thousands hours, including extensive testing. Even if you add I the testing with the ABC aircraft, it is still far less than the tilt rotor was tested before the V-22 program started.

    • rudyh39

      You mean tilt-fan jet thruster..see the Dornier Do-31; U-tube…from the Last Century…it suceeded…

  • asdf

    Its a fast way to get you to the scene of the crash. It does not have enough fuel capacity to make it a viable aircraft. Helicopters are very inefficent because they have to create their own lift. A helicopter cannot glide.

  • onebookisgood

    There is a very simple reason, they proposed the coaxial design for the KIOWA replacement. Keeps the rotor speed down. As soon as one goes into a replacement for the 60, this requires much larger rotors and once again higher tip speeds. Once this happens, the speed drops drastically to the point where it will ony be slightly faster than the helos we already have. The Russians already found this out the hard way with their Ka-52. Why the Russians did not buy the Ka-52 is because it has exactly one benefit, no tail rotor, but all the vulnerabilities of rotors close together.

    Will such an aircraft be more survivable? Possible as the prop can be smashed and the helo can still fly compared to current helos. An improvement, but at what cost? How much extra maintenance for the coaxial contra rotating rotors?

    • onebookisgood

      Oops, forgot to add: Contra rotating rotors will also produce far higher downwash velocity creating the same problems faced by the V-22 Osprey and CH-53.

      They will be quieter though, but with a distinct CHOP. How the noise quotient will come out is anyones guess as this is entirely dependent on tip velocity. Once again, a small scout would be quieter, but a rotor closer to the speed of sound on larger helo is going to make an ungodly racket.

      • Justin

        It will be interesting to see how the aircraft sounds. While the two main rotors individually will be quieter with their lower tip speeds, the addition of the pusher prop will add to its signature. I do feel this aircraft is the future though. With control surfaces on the tail, the main rotor does less work in forward flight. This will increase maneuverability and, i would imagine, fuel capacity.

      • onebookisgood

        Yes, contra rotating are more efficient by approx 20%. At least this was true when using contra rotating propellers. Mechanically it was a nightmare and dropped post haste during WWII(everyone tried it several times). I believe the only contra rotational aircraft that has ever achieved operational status is the Russian Bear.

      • Dfens

        What would Sikorsky know about helicopter design compared to some hack on the internet? It amazes me how anyone with a finger can hop on the internet and say, "Sikorsky is lying, their helicopter won't do this or that," while Sikorsky actually put their money where their mouth is and built a prototype aircraft that cost millions of dollars and showed quite plainly what they know.

      • onebookisgood

        Uh did I say Sikorsky were liars? No. Do learn how to read Dfens. Read the qualifiers in my statements above.

        Rotor size will limit forward speed. A helo, even a coaxial, helo still has the same problems any other helo has. Retreating blade offloading due to forward velocity causing dynamics instability. Now add 2 of them on opposite side of the aircraft shoving the blades closer together forcing stiffer blades meaning thicker airfoils = more drag = more prone to battle damage = same damn problem on the Osprey for its Vertical lift limitations even with HUGE amounts of power available.

        Yes, they do get to offload the rotor a bit by using the propeller and therefore get to use lower Cl on the rotor airfoils allowing higher overall velocities. Yes, they do gain about 20% efficiency in rotor lift per area compared to single rotor. Yes, this will gain a faster helo, but with more maintenance and decreased maneuverability, higher FOD rate due to increased downwash velocity per unit area, and depending on how rigid they make the blades, decreased vertical lift per HP and much worse at high altitidues. AKA Osprey problems.

        And NO, a larger helo than the S-97 will not be as fast or even close. AKA the Defiant. It will be MUCH slower. Look at the Ka-52. The Russians literally could not increase the rotor size and therefore increase its payload and therefore the aircraft is crippled.

        There is no free lunch in engineering land. Are you so barking naive and ig-no-rant to not understand that contra rotating blades have not been around since the 40s in both propeller AND helicopter forms? There are obvious and simple reasons why contra rotational propellers and helicopter blades were never put into service. Why not avail yourself of all of the copious amounts of reading on the subject in the form of NACA/NASA papers?

        You must give up something to gain something. Essentially this "defiant" will be another Osprey with its same limitations. Might cost less though. I would not hold my breath.

      • onebookisgood

        At least it can autogyro unlike the Bell offering.

      • onebookisgood

        Of course how the military is going they are going to try to force this platform competition to replace the Apache, the Kiowa, the 60, and the Chinook and in typical moron F-35 land this will make "perfect" sense to the idiot bean counters. Cripple all forms of the aircraft to save a few $$ in logistics but completely destroy ones ability to actually wage a war.

      • onebookisgood

        *** Erm, reduced maneuverability via spin about its forward axis. Obviously increased maneuverability about its yaw axis as no tail rotor

      • onebookisgood

        If you asked me, no one has, the S-97 is the worst performer of the bunch. It has the worst vertical lift ability and still has pathetic range/speed. Bell is better. Karems was better, and AVX's was better. Best of them all was Karem's.

      • Dfens

        The crap never stops.

      • sferrin

        CH-53 doesn't have counter-rotating rotors. Thanks for playin'

      • haloguy628

        Noise and prop down wash is the issue genius. Thanks for playin'

    • Tom

      Nothing new here. The Soviets (Russians) came out using coaxial helicopters way back in the 1970s. Their Naval choppers from Kamov — namely the Ka-25, Ka-25, and Ka-31 were/are counter-rotating blade models. We have never done so, however. The funny thing is I just recently saw an old 1930s movie — forgot the name but it was of a futuristic society — in which an aircraft looking eerily similar to this helicopter was used by the main characters. It had a push prop, very much like this design, only with a single rotor up top. Looks like Hollywood was ahead of its time. : )

      • Curt

        You are right that there is little new here, but missed on most everything else. You might want to google the advancing blade concept or Sikorsky XH-59A or Sikorsky S-69. The S-97 is what the S-69 might have evolved into had fly by wire controls, more efficient power plants, composite rotor technology, and active vibration control been available in the 1970s. As for the Russian helos, they have virtually nothing in common with the S-97 except counter rotating blades. Try flying a Kamov at 240kts and see what happens.

  • JohnnyRanger

    I love reading the comments on this site, but the grammar is just AWFUL…

    • sferrin

      It's only marginally better than the content.

  • blight_jaklsd

    Market/engineer the pusher as a upgrade to the standard Blackhawk. Then hopefully you can minimize the amount of new tooling required to get them going. However, upgrade packages aren't as profitable as new-build aircraft…

    • Dfens

      They won't want to reuse anything once the federal government is paying for the new design.

      • KLP

        This is already a low risk program since the prototype is already up and flying and doesn't need start-up development; my point being, I don't particularly mind as much for this if Army or anyone else in the gov't wants to pay for new complete airframes. In fact, it'd probably cost more at this point to develop a new tail section and main rotor gearbox with the rigid rotors to go with them in order to refit Blackhawks, not to mention re-designed Blackhawks will end up costing more than S-97 as Armed Aerial Scout, or costing about the same as SB-1 Defiant.

        This would be a good program for Army to get into as far as renewing the AAS if they're looking to increase their procurement batting average. With room for 6 guys and weapons and greater speed without a greater footprint, S-97 could potentially fulfill a lot of capabilities and unveil new ones.

        Now, should we spend money on it? I don't know. It's a cool craft, and potentially really useful, but what we have right now works, and in my opinion, weapons right now takes precedents over platforms. I'm just really tempted at having a low-risk option for something that was internally funded. They deserve an award.

      • Dfens

        I'm with you, I think it is great that Sikorsky got behind this idea and used their own funds to build a demonstrator and a prototype vehicle. The thing I hate is these government funded development programs that pretty much beg the contractor to drag out the design and jack up the costs by promising them $1.10 for every dollar they spend. It's a big temptation to spend yourself rich with that kind of contract, and for-profit defense corporations are in business to make a profit. That is neither unusual nor unexpected. It certainly isn't "bad".

    • JRT

      AVX Aircraft had a concept for remanufacturing the Kiowas into compound helicoptera with twin ducted fan pushers and with counter rotating main rotors. Interesting concept, but I don't know if anything went beyond the usual PowerPoint Engineering and CGI cartoon music videos.

  • jeff

    regardless to all of the prior comments this aircraft has been made and is going into production whether the USA buys it or not, Did you not read or watch the video and article ?

  • msgingram

    We definitely need a new helicopter that has more speed. Speed, cargo space, range are all from the past and we need to move forward with something better. Slow birds take hits from the ground.

  • Taylor

    Looks good to me! Could be a gun ship to protect the Ospreys since it could keep up with them better.

  • dlee

    Too many moving parts to break. Helicopters will be limited to flying someone to the airport unless its government and the cost of safety is not a limit.

  • FASnipeHT2

    This helicopter looks amazing. I am sure it will be bought by the Army and Marine corp.

  • Mike

    new technology through research is very important and is what made our country great. The only problem is our technical developed in the US is being stolen and sold to other countries. We need to do a better job at securing our secrets and new technical developments. Unfortunately we have an atmosphere created by the current administration that is degrading our country and our military. Our World dominance is diminishing and we are becoming a joke on the World stage.

  • CPT_OD

    Awesome design. A giant leap forward for helicopter performance that finally bridges a big chunk into the speed gap that is one of the biggest tradeoffs to not needing a runway. The biggest downside at this point, imho, is fuel consumption. It takes a high burnrate to turn so many moving parts and parisite drag increases exponentially with speed. The longterm solution is to find a replacement powerplant, like miniturized cold-fusion or something that can produce hydrogen on the fly. Until then though, let's modernize the whole fleet with a family of these. Small, medium and large.