Sikorsky forging ahead with S-97 Raider project
March 1, 2012 By Fort Worth Star-Telegram
March 1, 2012, Fort Worth, Tx. - Facing the likelihood of tight budgets for years, the U.S. Army and the Defense Department may not have much money anytime soon to develop helicopter technology.
That's not stopping Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. from forging ahead and spending tens of millions of dollars to try to reinvent the helicopter for the military.
President Jeff Pino says Sikorsky is committed to investing its own funds to build flying prototypes of the S-97 Raider, a demonstration aircraft incorporating the company's high-speed X2 Technology, to show the military what's possible.
In a recent interview, Pino says he is very confident Sikorsky can develop the technology and high-performance aircraft quickly and less expensively without government direction, money and oversight.
"It's kind of fun to be doing it on our own," says Pino, a veteran Army helicopter pilot and former Bell Helicopter executive.
"I think we can do these kinds of developments for one-third the cost and half the time [of a government contract]. I can do it with less people. I can do it in a Skunk Works-type environment; we call it Sikorsky Innovations."
Sikorsky, which produces the Army's workhorse UH-60 Black Hawk and the Marines' CH-53 helicopters, is a Connecticut-based subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. The company has an engineering office in south Fort Worth with about 200 employees and a subsidiary, Composite Technology in Grapevine, which employs more than 300 workers repairing rotor blades.
The S-97 Raider was undertaken to demonstrate a high-speed, high-altitude scout and attack helicopter for the Army that could replace the aging OH-58D Kiowa Warrior fleet built by Bell.
The Army is considering plans for such an aircraft under a program called Armed Aerial Scout. Bell and AVX Aircraft Co., both of Fort Worth, are proposing to upgrade the OH-58 to higher performance. Lockheed Martin and EADS North America propose adapting a civilian Eurocopter model to military configuration and are funding their own prototypes.
Most analysts say that with intense budget pressures, the Army is unlikely to have funds for such a program within two years, maybe longer, which would fit into Sikorsky's timetable.
Given the profits spun off by Sikorsky's military contracts and commercial sales, Pino says, he sees no reason the company can't design and test aircraft to prove that it can build a combat helicopter that is faster, flies higher, is more maneuverable and carries more payload.
"We're committed to go through two prototypes on the S-97," Pino said. The first plane, to prove the technology, is due to fly in 2014. A second prototype, with military systems and mission equipment installed, will follow.
The S-97 will be designed to carry weapons, a crew of two and six troops.
Sikorsky recently announced 35 suppliers for the program, some of which will contribute their own development funds to the effort.
The S-97 is the next step in Sikorsky's pursuit of what it calls its X2 Technology. The first step was design, development and testing of the X2 demonstrator, which flew a total of 17 hours in 2009 and 2010 and reached a top speed of more than 250 knots, nearly twice as much as the fastest conventional helicopters.
The aircraft uses a coaxial, counterrotating rotor system and pusher propeller for higher performance. AVX is pursuing a similar concept.
Sikorsky's design data shows that a military S-97 should be able to cruise at 220 knots with a 240-knot top speed. "That's with weapons deployed, stuff hanging off of it," Pino said.
For some time Pino has publicly advocated for the helicopter and aerospace industries to take some profits from a decade of supplying the U.S. military's war effort and invest in developing technology without waiting for government contracts.
"We're telling the industry, 'Come on, we don't always have to have government support,'" Pino says.