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The second Sikorsky S-97 Raider prototype has completed its first flight, marking the program’s return to flight testing following the first prototype’s hard landing in August 2017.
Sikorsky is using the Raider program to further mature technology developed in its X2 demonstrator — most notably its rigid coaxial main rotors and a variable-pitch pusher propeller (which enhance both the aircraft’s speed and its maneuverability) — for a possible Future Vertical Lift light application for the U.S. military.
The Raider is also serving as a “risk reducer” for the SB-1 Defiant — the larger high-speed rigid rotor coaxial rotorcraft Sikorsky is developing with Boeing for the U.S. Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program, in which it is competing against the Bell V-280 Valor.
The Raider’s first flight took place on May 22, 2015, but the program was grounded after the first prototype (Aircraft One) suffered a hard landing caused by issues with the flight control software as it performed a vertical takeoff during a flight test on Aug. 2, 2017. While the incident caused no significant injuries to either of the two flight crew members on board, the aircraft was sufficiently damaged to cause Sikorsky to choose to resume the flight test program with the second prototype (Aircraft Two) — which was not flight capable at the time.
Ground tests with Aircraft Two began earlier this year, with the first flight of the prototype taking place June 19 at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Sikorsky pilots Bill Fell and John Groth “flew the complete flight test card” the company said, and it “met all of the objectives” of the 90-minute flight.
“This is a significant milestone, which allows us to proceed with our full flight test program to demonstrate how Sikorsky’s X2 Technology is revolutionizing the future of vertical lift,” said Dan Spoor, Vice President, Sikorsky Future Vertical Lift. “We look forward to demonstrating to the U.S. military that high flight speed, and extraordinary maneuverability in the hover and low speed regimes, will dramatically change the way that military aviators fly and fight with helicopters.”
At the time of the hard landing, Sikorsky was in the process of expanding the Raider’s flight envelope, having recorded over 100 hours of ground runs and 20 hours of flight testing on the aircraft. The previous flight had taken the aircraft to 150 knots, with the accident flight scheduled to increase that speed to 180 knots. Sikorsky hoped the following flight would then explore the aircraft’s maximum speed, which it believes is over 220 knots.
According to Tim Malia, Sikorsky director, Future Vertical Lift Light, the first flight with the second prototype did not include high speed operation, but said the program team was “very pleased with the aircraft performance.”
Sikorsky will now be “systematically progressing” through the Raider’s flight test program, said Malia. “We will be generating the data to submit with our proposal [to the U.S. Army] to show that we have advanced this technology and it is proven compliant and ready to take the next steps. It is not a paper design.”