Military helicopters are a fascinating piece of equipment. There are actually some hardcore fans of some American helicopters, specifically – AH-64 Apache. However, many American military helicopters are starting to feel their age and will need replacement soon. It is likely that a new generation of military helicopters will look something like this.

There is a program, called Future Vertical Lift, aiming to find a reliable helicopter base, which would underlay all five main helicopters that US Army needs. Of course, since the roles are different, they will not look the same, but are supposed to share sensors, avionics, engines, countermeasures and some other components. Also, these helicopters must be quick and capable of carrying heavy loads. We recon, Sikorsky S-97 Raider gives a good indication of what these aircrafts will look like.

S-97 Raider in the middle of test flight.

Just by looking at the picture you know it is not an ordinary helicopter. First of all, it does not have a normal tail rotor. Instead of it there is a pushing propeller, similar to those found in gyroplanes. It is meant to make the helicopter faster.

The problem with helicopters is that they are slow. Usually there is nothing pushing the aircraft forwards, meaning that no propellers are vertical and perpendicular to the helicopter’s fuselage. This is solved by compound helicopters that have propellers pulling or pushing the aircraft forwards. In fact, the fastest helicopter ever was a compound one – Eurocopter X3 prototype, reaching the speeds of 255 knots (472 km/h). It had two propellers at each side and was working pretty well, but did not pass prototype phase. It is said that Airbus Helicopters is still working on the idea and may present a new aircraft soon.

Some would argue that S-97 Raider just looks weird.

Sikorsky S-97 Raider has two coaxial rotors, spinning at different directions. It increases payload and eliminates the need for the tail rotor. It also features a fly-by-wire controls and antivibration system. All in all, S-97 Raider is extremely manoeuvrable at low speeds – flying slowly it is controlled by tilting rotor separately from each other or in one unit.

At higher speeds Raider uses rudders – similarly to a plane. It can reach speeds of up to 240 kn (444 km/h), but in the future, with more powerful engines maximum speed will increase. We will remind that Apache can reach only about 158 kn (293 km/h). Six soldiers and a couple of pilots will fit in Raider, but it can help evacuating injured soldier or carrying some cargo. It can also be used as an attack helicopter, armed with .50 caliber machine gun and rocket launchers.

Sikorsky and Boeing are working on another aircraft for the Future Vertical Lift program – it looks similar, but is a bit bigger and is still not flying – SB-1 Defiant. The biggest competition to Sikorsky’s idea of what future military helicopter should look like is Bell V-280 Valor – a helicopter with two large horizontal rotors side by side. We will probably write about it when it makes its maiden flight – it might happen this year.

Future Vertical Lift is trying to replace H-60 Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache, CH-47 Chinook and OH-58 Kiowa with a unified system. So far, it looks like Sikorsky’s technology is taking bigger leaps than competitors. Therefore, it is very likely that future helicopters of US military will look something like S-97 Raider.


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