The US Army's high-speed helicopter Raider X is now armed with Hellfire missiles

Sikorsky have just released images of its new high-tech Raider X chopper.
Christopher McFadden
Computer-generated mockup of a completed Sikorsky Raider X.Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky

The U.S.-based aerospace, arms, defense, information security, and technology corporation Lockheed Martin's company, Sikorsky, has just revealed new photos of its Raider X prototype helicopter equipped with Hellfire missiles and a 20mm main gun.

Sikorsky's gambit for the U.S. Army's Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program has been sent to West Palm Beach, Florida, for testing. Sikorsky has 98% of the parts needed to finish the Raider, according to Jay Macklin, business development director for Sikorsky Army Programs and Innovations, and the entire aircraft is roughly 90% near completion. 

“Our acceptance test procedures are more than 50 percent complete,” Macklin said. “We're working really closely with the U.S. Army on the whole build, and they are extremely involved in every aspect of this and have been great teammates,” Macklin said in a press conference on the 28th of June 2022.

The two photographs published show the fuselage at a West Palm hangar called "FARA Country." Under the aircraft's chin lies the three-barreled main cannon. The helicopter's "modular effects launchers" can also be folded to save drag. These pods can also carry air-launched drones, according to Sikorsky.

These pods can be removed if needed to make room for assault troops or casualty evacuation.

The aircraft has two primary rotor masts, one inside the other, but no blades are visible from the images. The eight-bladed pusher prop is also missing from the tail boom.

The Raider X uses Sikorsky's X2 technology too.

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.

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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

FARA intends to replace the now aging and retired OH-58D Kiowa Warriors in its armed scout function. RQ-7 Shadow, MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters are currently doing this task. FARA might replace many Army AH-64s as well.

Since its maiden flight in 2015, S-97 has logged more than 100 flight hours and continues to fly regularly, Macklin told reporters. Since its initial flight in 2015, the S-97 has flown faster than 200 knots, well exceeding conventional rotorcraft's peak speeds.

Its pusher prop provides for speed bursts, rapid deceleration, and enhanced maneuverability, which the Army wants in its "Future Vertical Lift" family of advanced rotorcraft. The Raider's ability to "pirouette" around a single point is something that has impressed many test pilots.

The helicopter can also fly forward with its snout up or backward 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 forward 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.

sikorsky defiant X
Source: Lockheed Martin

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 Ukraine war, especially from man-portable air defense weaponry (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.

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