Someday, the Army could welcome a new scout helicopter into its fleet. Two companies are competing against one another in a program called FARA (Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft) to create the whirlybird that will fill that role. One of them is Bell, which is working on a candidate called the 360 Invictus. The other is Sikorsky, whose flying machine is called the Raider X.
Sikorsky’s candidate features coaxial top rotors: The two large rotors on top of the helicopter, which give it lift, spin in opposite directions, negating the need for a traditional tail rotor.
Two images of Raider X in a hangar in West Palm Beach, Florida, shared recently by Sikorsky, reveal how the company’s prototype is coming together. “The aircraft build is 90-percent complete,” says Pete Germanowski, the chief engineer on the FARA program at Sikorsky. “The basic airframe’s there, the cockpit doors are installed, the weapons bay doors are installed, the landing gear is installed and serviced, [and] many of the electrical and hydraulic subsystems are fully installed and going through their acceptance test procedures.”
In the photo above, a few details stand out. At the aircraft’s nose is a simulated weapon—a 3D-printed substitute for the actual 20mm cannon that would someday hang from under the aircraft in the same spot. That cannon is attached to a turret. “The turret that’s installed on the aircraft is the real deal flight-worthy turret,” Germanowski says, “with the actuation motors, and the motor controller unit, and all of the electronics that allow us to swivel the gun in azimuth, and pitch the gun in elevation.”
On top of the helicopter is another component that’s 3D-printed, as a stand-in for what will be the hubs for the top rotors and the gearbox. Germanowski refers to that 3D-printed component as a “shop aid,” which he says “allowed us to verify the installation procedure for the gearbox on the actual aircraft.” Ultimately, the hub that holds the two top rotors—which aren’t shown in these images—will be forged from titanium.
At the helicopter’s tail will also someday be a propeller that can help the aircraft accelerate or decelerate. Whichever helicopter becomes the Army’s choice for the FARA role will be powered by a single engine, which is General Electric’s T901.
In another image, below, additional 3D-printed components protrude out of the weapon’s bay, which is open. What’s visible is a simulated version of a system called the modular effects launcher, which someday could carry missiles, rockets, or other kinetic objects, like drones or other sensors. The same section of the helicopter could also hold six people on troop seats, an auxiliary fuel tank, or other gear.
If this scout helicopter sounds similar in design to another from Sikorsky, that’s because it is. While the Raider X is part of the FARA competition, Sikorsky’s Defiant X is part of another Army competition called FLRAA, which stands for Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft. Both helicopters, Raider and Defiant, have similar design elements: two counter-rotating top rotors, and a propeller in back.
[Related: Tilting rotors could help make Bell’s speedy new aircraft the next Black Hawk]
“It looks similar to Defiant,” says Germanowski, referring to the Raider X. “It’s significantly smaller than Defiant.”
Meanwhile, over at Bell, their FARA candidate—both companies refer to the aircraft they are working on as a competitive prototype—is the 360 Invictus, which in March was reported to be 87-percent finished. Some obvious design differences present themselves between the two aircraft prototypes: Bell’s aircraft employs a single main rotor up top, and a tandem cockpit, meaning the two pilots sit with one person in front of the other, as opposed to side-by-side. Also, the Invictus has a wing.
Both Sikorsky and Bell might see their FARA competitive prototypes fly for the first time next year. And while the two companies are going head-to-head in the FARA program, with the Raider X pitted against the 360 Invictus, they are also competing in the aforementioned FLRAA program, with the Defiant X up against the V-280 Valor. If FARA is about finding a next-gen armed scout helicopter, then FLRAA is all about choosing a larger, Black-Hawk-type helicopter.
While it’s unclear when the Army will make a decision as to which aircraft it wants to go with for the FARA program, the FLRAA competition is further along. “The review board is being very thorough and the contract awardee will be announced when the board completes its review,” an Army spokesperson said via email, regarding FLRAA. The Drive reports that that FLRAA decision could happen in September. Update: In an email, an Army spokesperson says the service plans to make a decision for one FARA aircraft in fiscal year 2025, which for the US government begins Oct. 1, 2024.