JUST IN: Sikorsky Leveraging Army Engine Delay to Improve FARA Prototype

By Meredith Roaten
The RAIDER X competitive prototype built for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program

Photo courtesy Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company

PALM BEACH, Florida — The delay of the new engine for the Army’s next reconnaissance helicopter won’t impact Sikorsky’s design process for the prototype it is offering, company executives said.

The Raider X prototype helicopter — Sikorsky’s candidate for the Army’s future assault reconnaissance aircraft, or FARA — is 90 percent complete, and the engine delay gives Sikorsky more time to complete the design and reduce risk, said Pete Germanowski, senior engineer at Sikorsky, during a June 29 media event.

“From an engineering perspective, the real benefit of that delay is that it better aligns the [preliminary design review] with the [competitive prototype] flight test activity,” he said. “About the time we get to PDR, we’ll be a large percentage of the way through the CP flight test program as well, so you get that test-based validation of your results.”

The justification documents released in May for the 2023 defense budget request showed that while the service planned to have competitors start their flight test program in fiscal year 2023, fiscal year 2024 is now the earliest the aircraft will take off.

The delay was caused by COVID-19-related supply chain issues, an Army official told National Defense in April.

Sikorsky’s Raider X is based on the current S-97 Raider and is going toe to toe against Bell Textron’s 360 Invictus — based on the older 525 Relentless aircraft.

A Bell official told National Defense in April that its prototype would be about 90 percent complete in May or June, and that the company will do all the testing it can without the engine.

Vendors are expecting the engine for integration from the Improved Turbine Engine program by November, and Jay Macklin, director of future vertical lift at Sikorsky, confirmed the engineering manufacturing design test phase will begin fall 2023.

The engine will be the last “significant” piece in the completed build, as the Palm Beach plant continues to receive completed parts from its factory in Stratford, Connecticut, Germanowski said.

The competitive prototype awaits a few key features such as its coaxial rotorblades and tail rotor.

Germanowski said while the delay gives the team more flexibility to make the build more competitive, Sikorsky won’t slow down.

“We're not allowing ourselves to get comfortable and go slower, because we still want to support the production program, the schedule the Army’s on there, so we pretty tactically evaluate where we have room to kind of go a little slower and spend a little more time,” he said.

When asked if the delay raises concerns about the Army’s dedication to the program Macklin said the company isn’t worried. He pointed to the increase in the funding request for FARA and its sister helicopter program: future long-range assault aircraft.

“Army aviation has been very clear about the importance, the capability gap that FARA is filling in a reconnaissance role,” he said.

Germanowski added having the S-97 has saved the team months in the design phase alone and will likely quicken the pace for the test phase. Designing a new aircraft naturally comes with integration issues, he said. But the engineering team already worked out many problems early on the S-97.

“Going into the [competitive prototype] design, we had a lot of confidence to know that those large, inherent to the configuration issues that you might run into, we already had a lot of experience with,” he said.

Digital engineering has also reduced the number of design errors on the competitive prototype by nearly half, he said.

He added Sikorsky is still working on the modular open systems approach for the competitive prototype. Lockheed Martin has been pursuing demonstrations for companies to bring in third parties to evaluate if their technology is easy to run on Sikorsky’s software and hardware. The ultimate goal is for the company to support the Army’s own modular open systems demonstrations.

“At that point, the Army will bring in a third party supplier, and our goal is for that third party supplier to have a fantastic experience with our system,” he said.

Christian Corry, Sikorsky test pilot, said flying the Raider S-97 has helped the company prepare for the Army’s test flight phase for the competitive prototype.

“I wouldn't want to be showing up to the kickoff without having the kind of preseason that we've had,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin expects a decision on the future long-range assault aircraft program in the “next couple of months,” said Andrew Adams, vice president for future vertical lift. The company is making its bid for FLRAA with the Defiant X platform, which utilizes almost all the same components as the Raider prototype. The Bell V-280 tiltrotor is its competition.

“There's no one telling us officially when the date is going to be,” he said at the media event.


Topics: Air Power

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