HELICOPTERS ARE ABOUT TO CHANGE DRASTICALLY
BUT WHAT DIRECTION WILL WIN OUT?
SIKORSKY S-97 RAIDER
Helicopters are extraordinarily useful machines, but are expensive to buy, expensive to maintain, gas guzzlers—and limited in performance. Where the latter is concerned, they can’t lift very much or go very fast. Though there are exceptions, most helicopters cruise at well under 150 mph—and many don’t do much better than 120 mph.
That situation has existed for decades. In fact, many Vietnam-era Hueys are still flying—and they were introduced in the Sixties.. Rumors that they are pedal powered are an exaggeration. Their rubber bands work fine.
Helicopter avionics, rotors, and engine performance have all improved immeasurably over the years, but speed, duration and lifting capability have changed little. The gains have primarily been in terms of sheer flyability, reliability, fuel economy, engine power, and comfort. The things still seem determined to vibrate themselves to pieces—but less so. It now takes a little longer before they fall apart in the air.
There is now a serious attempt to just about double helicopter performance—at least in terms of speed. The Sikorky S-97 Raider represent just one such approach. Other include variations on the tilt rotor—as currently represented by the V-22 Osprey.
The question is not whether these efforts will be successful—we already know they will be. The question is which technology will emerge as being most cost effective.
Regarding the issue of lift, I expect to see major development in terms of multi-engined aircraft—probably powered by hybrid electric motors. Electric motors can be made very small and powerful so I see them being used on the rotors with power being supplied by a battery and the battery being kept charged by a single generator. Eventually, one would hope that battery improvements will make the generator unnecessary—but we are far from there yet.
Nonetheless, within 10-15 years from now, I expect the rotary world to look very different.
Thanks to being privileged to work for Piasecki Aircraft for a brief period on a DARPA project—to develop a MAR (Mission Adaptive Rotor) I am pleased to say I will be able to claim that I have made a tiny (as in miniscule) contribution to that progress.
It was fascinating, exhausting, and fun—and I shall ever be grateful to Piasecki—and to my good friend, Mike Sparks, for making the connection.
Why in hell was a thriller writer asked to work on such an advanced engineering project?
We writers get around, I’ll have you know—and, if nothing else, words are Mission Adaptive.
By the way, for all their imperfections, I love helicopters and the day I flew in an Apache-AH64 changed my life.
For the better.
Based on Sikorsky's rigid X2 rotor coaxial design, the S-97 RAIDER helicopter features next-generation technologies in a multi-mission configuration, capable of carrying six troops and external weapons. The coaxial counter-rotating main rotors and pusher propeller provide cruise speeds up to 220 knots (253 mph).
"We look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate the RAIDER's revolutionary performance and unmatched maneuverability for the U.S. Army," said Steve Engebretson, Director, Advanced Military Programs. "We're delivering on our promise to design and build a helicopter with performance capabilities not seen before."
The S-97 RAIDER helicopter demonstrator program is 100 percent industry-funded. Sikorsky provides 75 percent of the investment and the suppliers provide the remaining funding. Sikorsky's goal is to attract government interest in the program.
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