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A field of five industry teams vying to build the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) has been whittled to two, with Sikorsky and Bell coming out on top and headed for a face-to-face flyoff.
“The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft is the Army’s number one aviation modernization priority and is integral to effectively penetrate and dis-integrate adversaries’ Integrated Air Defense Systems,” said Dr. Bruce D. Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. “It will enable combatant commanders with greater tactical, operational and strategic capabilities through significantly increased speed, range, endurance, survivability and lethality.”
FARA is split into three phases: preliminary design; detailed design, build, and test; and prototype completion assessment and evaluation for entrance into a final production phase.
Five teams were awarded design, build and test contracts in April 2019. They were AVX Aircraft Co. partnered with L3Harris, Bell, Boeing, Karem Aircraft and Sikorsky. Phase one ended when the government conducted an initial design and risk review assessment with each performer and selected these two performers to continue into phase two.
Bell and Sikorsky are now cleared for phase two, in which they will complete detailed design, build and test of their air vehicle solutions.
Bell’s current contract is worth more than $700 million while Sikorsky’s total contract value is $940 million, which includes significant internal research and development funding. The Army will cut funding to the other three teams.
Sikorsky’s Raider X is a direct descendent of the S-97 Raider that has been in test for several years. The new concept retains the basic coaxial, rigid-main-rotor configuration with an aft pusher propulsor, but is 20 percent larger than the S-97.
Where the S-97 has a 34-foot (10.4-meter) main rotor diameter and is built around a GE YT706 engine, its evolutionary descendant will have a 39-foot (11.9-meter) main rotor diameter and be built to accept the GE T901 engine the Army has prescribed for FARA, according to Tim Malia, Sikorsky’s FARA program director.
The S-97, which has been in flight test since 2015, is being employed as an 80-percent scale model of the new, larger Raider X.
“We are honored the Army selected our game changing X2 Technology for Phase 2 of the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype program,” said Andy Adams, Sikorsky’s vice president for Future Vertical Lift. “Through our mature S-97 Raider technology demonstrator, we continue to optimize our FARA solution, which will provide the Army with an integrated weapon system that combines speed, range, maneuverability, survivability and operational flexibility. . . . With tremendous growth potential, Raider X will give the maneuver commander and Army aviators the vertical lift dominance required to defeat ever-evolving threats for decades to come.”
Bell is designing, manufacturing, and testing the 360 Invictus, a prototype design that on the surface is a conventional helicopter with single main rotor and canted, ducted tail rotor, but includes a supplemental power unit to boost it beyond 180 knots.
Invictus’s design borrows the rotor system from the Bell 525, which the company notes has been flown at speeds above 200 knots in test flights. Invictus also will use a version of the 525’s fly-by-wire flight control system.
The aircraft should have a combat radius of 135 nautical miles with more than 90 minutes of time on station and achieve 4k/95F hover out of ground effect (HOGE). At cruising speed, two “lift-sharing” wings, which are 24 feet tip-to-tip, will offload half the burden from the fully-articulated main rotors.
“The selection of the Bell 360 Invictus to continue in the FARA program builds on our decades-long legacy as an innovator in reconnaissance rotorcraft supporting the maneuver force,” said Mitch Snyder, president and CEO of Bell. “Our team has applied innovative thinking with tested technology to give the Army a low-risk option to fulfill its requirements on an aggressive schedule.”
A government-sponsored fly-off between the two is scheduled for no later than the fall of 2023. The Army is aiming to fill the operational gap left by retiring the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopter. The successful FARA should fit in a 40-foot by 40-foot box and achieve cruise speeds of 180 knots in forward flight.
“The current aviation fleet does not possess a dedicated aircraft to conduct armed reconnaissance, light attack, and security with improved standoff and lethal and non-lethal capabilities from a platform sized to hide in radar clutter and for the urban canyons of mega cities,” the Army said in a statement.