AUSA: In the intense contest to replace the Army’s current helicopters, Sikorsky says they can reach the speed and range of a turboprop plane while losing none of the low-altitude agility of a traditional chopper.
Yes, that is a dig at archrival Bell’s tiltrotor technology, which Sikorsky engineers consider — fairly or otherwise — an ungainly compromise between a rotorcraft and a fixed-wing plane. While tiltrotors tilt their rotors up and down (hence the name), converting them between helicopter rotors and giant propellers, Sikorsky’s compound helicopters combine an unusually rigid, responsive rotor on top with a pusher propeller on the back.
“It’s much more like a fighter aircraft than a helicopter,” Sikorsky’s test pilot tells me in the video as he maneuvers gleefully.
“Whoa, warn me next time!” I say after a particularly nifty/nauseating roll.
Then I get to try out the controls myself — with a little guidance from the test pilot: “It will let you fly into the ground,” he says gently.
We’re flying a simulator because the aircraft in question, Sikorsky’s offering for the Army’s Future Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), isn’t actually built yet. Their smaller S-97 Raider is up an flying, while a larger troop-carrying version, the SB>1 Defiant, is almost completed.
But Bell’s rival V-280 Valor troop-carrier has been flying almost a year, with tremendous publicity, so Sikorsky’s keenly aware they need to need to recapture the headlines. That’s why they brought a massive FARA simulator to this year’s Association of the US Army show. But the real test, of course, will how well the real thing flies — and whether the Army can afford it.