Sikorsky's S-97 Raider spun its rotors and pusher propeller for the first time today. Although the innovative light attack and scout chopper does not have a customer yet, its technology aims to replace the vast majority of the Army's helicopter fleet while offering double the speed and greater range.
Originally the S-97 was meant to replace the suddenly put out to pasture OH-58D Kiowa Warrior fleet. With the Apache AH-64E and unmanned aircraft now filling the Kiowa's role, the S-97 has no real buyer, but Sikorsky's high-speed multi-role chopper (it can hold six troops as well as sling Hellfire missiles and rockets) is more relevant now than ever. As a result its sales status could change, both in the export market or right here at home.
Regardless of the lack of official customers, the S-97 is based around the same technology as the larger SB-1 Defiant design that is being pitched by Sikorsky and Boeing against Bell's tilt-rotor V-280 Valor to fullfill the potentially ultra-lucrative Future Vertical Lift/Joint Multi Role helicopter requirement.
This initiative, which was at one time somewhat analogous to the one-size-fits-all F-35 program, aimed at replacing the Blackhawk, Apache, Kiowa Warrior and even portions of the Chinook fleet in the coming decades with a common helicopter platform. Now, the Army seems to be open to using different sized airframes built around the same common technology (coaxial rotor with pusher prop design or a tilt-rotor design) for the very different reconnaissance/attack and transport roles. The S-97 could be an off-the-shelf solution for the Reconnaissance/attack role if team Sikorsky-Boeing wins the contract, although they also have a AH-1 Cobra-like model specifically to take the Apache's attack chopper role.
A flyoff competition between the two teams for the JMR/FVL program will occur in 2017, that is if funding for a new and more expensive replacement for the Blackhawk, Apache and Chinooks is not totally unobtainable by that time. In the meantime, the S-97 Raider should be whizzing around the skies later this year.
This is concept art of the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant
Bell's V-280 Valor design
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com