Double rotor, stealth, and thruster: the prototypes of Sikorsky and Bell compete to replace the US Army reconnaissance helicopters.

The Pentagon has just reduced the competition to two competitors: Bell and Sikorsky will compete to win the FARA (Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft) contract, which aims to replace the US Army’s light reconnaissance and attack helicopters.

The Army’s new scout-attack helicopters look stealthy

The current OH-58 Kiowa, which entered service at the end of the 1960s. To convince the military, the two giants took out major resources, integrating, for example, a double rotor and a propeller, or elements of stealth.

Prototypes already in flight

With the Raider-X, Sikorsky (a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin) is betting on innovative design with a double counter-rotating rotor: the two main rotors each turn in one direction, thus canceling the torque effect and making it possible to avoid a tail rotor, replaced by a propeller.

The set allows both a rapid gain in altitude and a higher cruising speed, therefore a wider range.

But this technological leap frightens some of the decision-makers at the Pentagon, traumatized by the repeated disasters of the F-35 stealth fighter program, whose delays have accumulated and the costs have soared.

The first series is still not operational nearly four years after entering service with the US Navy. Aware of these concerns, Sikorsky has assured several times that he is not taking any risks with the Raider-X since the technology is already in the air: two smaller prototypes, S-97 Raiders, are already flying.

This project brings together Sikorsky and Boeing in the race for another contract, the FLRAA (Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft), which aims to replace the UH-60 Black Hawks, transport, and assault helicopters of the American army.

In this race, the SB-1 competes with the Bell V-280 Valor, which has two tilt rotors and a V-tail, halfway between the aircraft and the helicopter.

Hardiness versus efficacy

For its reconnaissance helicopter project, Bell was not able to follow Sikorsky and adapt its heavy helicopter technology to a more compact model, because the tilt rotors would have been too bulky, in urban environments in particular.

The helicopter manufacturer has developed a small aircraft strangely reminiscent of the stealth project, abandoned in 2004 by the Pentagon. The main rotor and the tail rotor are completed by ailerons: nothing too rocket science.

This allows the manufacturer to promise the military a more aggressive price and easier maintenance than with the Sikorsky model.