Sikorsky continues to make progress on its S-97 Raider prototype helicopter, completing roughly one-quarter of the build cycle on the coaxial rotor, pusher-prop helicopter.
The company tells Flightglobal it remains confident in the viability of the design and the potential for an order by US Army, which is examining a replacement for its Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters.
The fuselage of the first Raider, which is made mostly of carbon fiber and other composite materials, rests in a hanger at Sikorsky’s sprawling facility not far from West Palm Beach, Florida.
The fuselage arrived in September from Aurora Flight Sciences, and is now being built into the first aircraft by a roughly 15 Sikorsky employees – largely the same crew that assembled the earlier X-2 test aircraft, says the company.
Sikorsky recently completed successful bird strike tests designed to ensure the aircraft’s fuselage would adequately absorb the shock endured from striking a bird the size of a chicken at 235kt, the aircraft’s expected top horizontal flight speed.
The company also completed successful fuel system drop tests to ensure the integrity of fuel tanks during a crash.
In April or May Sikorsky expects to begin drive train testing on an outdoor “transmission systems test bed.”
First flight is scheduled for late 2014. Initial test flights will be conducted with two test pilots, but Sikorsky may add a third test pilot to the programme after roughly 10h of flight time, says the company.
Like the experimental X-2, Raider has two counter-rotating coaxial rotors and a rear pusher prop that the company says will propel the aircraft to speeds of greater than 200kt.
The pusher prop also will make Raider much more maneuverable than conventional helicopters, with the ability to hover in a nose-up or nose-down attitude, a feature that will let pilots more-effectively fire at targets.
Sikorsky’s stated price of $15 million each makes Raider a more expensive option for the army than conventional helicopters.
But the company says the US military will find value in Raider’s speed and capabilities, and it thinks Raider will become a serious contender for a scout replacement once test flights demonstrate its ability.
In addition, Sikorsky says oil companies are “very keen” on X-2 technology as an efficient executive transport to offshore oil platforms.