Sikorsky S-97 Raider About to Take to the Skies
TAMPA, Fla. – Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider prototype is almost ready for its maiden flight, according to a company executive.
The high-tech helicopter was slated to take to the skies last year but its launch was delayed while Sikorsky did further development and testing. The wait now appears to be nearing an end.
“The first aircraft is going through ground runs right now. We’ll be flying within a two to three week timeframe,” Douglas Shidler, the head of Sikorsky’s joint multi-role technology demonstrator program, told National Defense May 19 at an industry conference in Tampa.
Demonstrations of the Raider are expected to begin next year following further testing and evaluation, Shidler said.
The Raider has a unique rigid rotor co-axis system and a propeller on its tail, which its designers believe will give it greater speed, maneuverability and survivability than other helicopters.
“As a result of the co-axis, you do not need a conventional tail rotor on it. The prop that’s on it enables you to go fast,” Shidler explained. “This configuration enables you to fly fast… but also retain all the [hover and maneuver] attributes of a helicopter.”
Described by Shidler as a “light gunship” with a cruising speed of 220 knots, the Raider is being pitched as an ideal armed aerial reconnaissance platform. The aircraft can be equipped with Hellfire missiles, rockets and a .50 caliber gun, according to Sikorsky.
The Raider could serve as an escort for the V-22 Osprey, a fast-moving, tilt-rotor transport aircraft that is one of the prized acquisition programs of the Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command, he said.
“Nothing in the DoD inventory can fly as fast as the V-22 and still provide coverage,” he said.
With multiple manning options, the Raider could potentially be used as a drone. “This is a full fly-by-wire aircraft. And the architecture we’ve established for it enables some other missions or capabilities that we’re developing, such as optionally [human] piloted. So that could be a kit that we added on,” Shidler said.
Sikorsky hopes to eventually land contracts with SOCOM and other Defense Department components that might be interested in acquiring the Raider’s capabilities.
The company had a model of the aircraft on display at the National Defense Industrial Association conference in Tampa, where a multitude of SOCOM officials and industry representatives met to talk about future requirements.
The Raider, which Sikorsky began developing in 2010, was seen as a potential candidate to replace the Army’s OH-58 Kiowa. But budget constraints compelled the Army to shelve its plans for a new armed aerial scout program.
“We don’t have [an award] competition to compete for right now,” Steve Engebretson, Sikorsky’s director of advanced military programs, said in an interview May 20.
However, Sikorsky has teamed up with Boeing to develop a larger aircraft — the SB1 Defiant — for the Army's joint multi-role technology demonstrator program. The Defiant is based on a design similar to the Raider. While the Raider weighs 11,000 pounds and can carry six passengers, the Defiant weighs about 30,000 pounds and can carry 12 troops.
With a cruise speed of approximately 250 knots, the Defiant would be ideal for search-and-rescue operations or tactical assaults, Shidler said.
Sikorsky executives are hoping that the Defiant will be selected for the Army’s future vertical lift program, which is intended to replace part of the service’s aging helicopter fleet.