Proposed Helicopter Would Replace MH-6/AH-6 Little Bird if Adopted.
Lockheed Martin has released a new promotional video showing the S-97 Raider light tactical helicopter demonstrating many of its unique performance capabilities.
The S-97 Raider, if adopted by the U.S. military, would replace the aging family of MH-6/AH-6 Little Bird helicopters widely used since the Vietnam conflict as special operations and observation/light attack helicopters. The MH-6/AH-6 family first flew in 1963 making it a legacy platform that has been continuously updated for expanded roles. Most airframes in U.S. service are now aging and, because a light tactical helicopter is subjected to high stresses in operational and training use the older aircraft are approaching the end of their structural lifespan.
The new S-97 Raider is a significant technology update over previous light attack/observation helicopters. It uses a mostly carbon fiber composite fuselage like the MV-22 Osprey. The S-97 has much higher performance than the MH-6/AH-6 family, more internal space for up to 6 combat equipped troops, a unique co-axial rotor system and a host of additional technological advancements. Lockheed-Martin is firstly and specifically configuring the S-97 as a replacement of the U.S. Special Operations Command MH-6M Little Bird. The significant difference in top speeds between the MH-6M at only 175 MPH and the new S-97 at 276 MPH is just one example of the massive performance and capability improvement available with Lockheed-Martin’s new platform.
Innovative performance features of the new Lockheed-Martin/Sikorsky S-97 Raider. (LM)
Another key performance enhancement is that the S-97 program has greatly improved “hot, high and heavy” rotary wing performance. Helicopters often struggle with performance at high altitude in hot weather conditions and can become vulnerable to performance problems like “vortex ring state”. Vortex ring state likely contributed to the controlled crash of a highly modified U.S. special operations helicopter, the MH-X Stealth Black Hawk, during the May 2, 2011 raid to apprehend Osama bin Laden, Operation Neptune Spear.
The new S-97 has already demonstrated stable, controllable hover capability at 6,000 feet AGL and 95° Fahrenheit. The aircraft has also maneuvered at speed to 3g’s.
The co-axial or contra-rotating main rotors on the S-97 were originally conceived by Russian engineer Mikhail Lomonosov. This design has been proven on Russian designs including the successfully deployed newer Kamov KA-50 and KA-52 attack helicopters and much older designs like the KA-27 family of Kamov helicopters widely used in different versions in both military and commercial roles mostly by the Russians.
Contra-rotating main rotors were first developed and employed by the Russians including this Kamov KA-50 attack. (image credit: Russian Aviation Photography)
Advantages to a co-axial rotor system include equalizing the effects of torque compared to helicopters with one-directional large rotating blades or “rotary wings”. Helicopters with a single large rotor system have a tendency to “pull” or rotate in the direction of the main rotor blades’ rotation. To counteract the rotational force of a single main rotor the smaller tail rotor is mounted sideways as is conventionally seen on helicopters. The tail rotor on the new S-97 Raider is rear-facing, adding more thrust than a conventional sideways mounted rotor and contributing to the S-97’s higher top speed.
The S-97 Raider program was initially started to replace the aging OH-58 Kiowa Warrior observation helicopter under a then-$16 billion U.S. Army acquisition program named “Armed Aerial Scout.”
The program was put on hold prior to the U.S. Presidential election due to budgetary constraints. Sikorsky, the originator of the program, teamed with Lockheed-Martin to continue the program and adjusted the marketing focus to a broader mission set.
Here’s an interesting promotional video of the S-97:
Operation Neptune’s Spear exposed the existence of the MH-X Stealth Black Hawk helicopter.
The first photos from the Abbottabad compound where Osama Bin Laden had been killed early in the morning on May 2, 2011, clearly shows something never seen before: the remains of one of the helicopters used by the U.S. Navy SEALs in Operation “Neptune’s Spear”, didn’t seem to belong to any known type.
The horizontal stabilizer and tail rotor of the wreckage depicted in the photographs didn’t seem to be any form of H-60. Both the shape and position were not common to either Black Hawks helicopters and the tail rotor featured a weird cover that could be anything from a stealth cover, to an armour plate to a noise reduction device.
Based on the remains of the tail section this Author tried to imagine what the full stealthy chopper would have looked like after applying some upgrades needed to make it, if not radar-evading, at least a bit quieter.
With some imagination, engine shields, rotor covers, an extra main rotor blade (to slow down the rotor speed making blades quieter), RAM (Radar Absorbing Material) coating, straight lines and what had survived the attempt of the U.S. Navy Seals Team 6 to destroy the chopper, with the help of Ugo Crisponi, an artist at AviationGraphic.com, we created a sketch of the “black”, never seen before, helicopter (that actually resembled more an S-76 than a modified MH-60 Black Hawk so please have a look at a more reasonable shape here.)
Since then, little more has emerged about the black chopper until 2015, when a book titled “Relentless Strike” by Sean Naylor provided some new details about the history of the MH-X.
According to Naylor, the Stealth helicopters that took part in the raid were experimental choppers that had survived a program to make the Black Hawk less visible to radars. Tested by the 160th SOAR in Area 51, Nevada, before the program was cancelled, the two airframes were less maneuverable under certain conditions than the standard MH-60s because of the modifications. Still, in the wake of the successful raid in Pakistan, the program was exhumed, and the “Night Stalkers” flew their “new” MH-Xs to Syria where they took part in the failed raid to free captured American journalist James Foley and other captives from ISIS, on July 4th, 2014.
Although it has never been confirmed, the presence of the MH-X derivatives in Syria was also rumored in the aftermath of a daring raid that killed ISIS high level operative Abu Sayyaf at Deir Ezzor, southeast of Raqqa, in eastern Syria, in the night between May 15th and 16th.
An interesting image has emerged from the prolific Chinese Internet.
It depicts a mysterious helicopter being moved on a truck in China. Even if the aircraft is hidden below a protective covering, its shape can be guessed.
The chopper seems to have something in common with the U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk, hence it may be a Z-20, a Chinese model believed to be based on the S-70C, a medium transport/utility helicopter manufactured by Sikorsky already in service with the People’s Liberation Army.
Obviously this is a far fetched theory, since only a few chunks survived the crash landing at Abbottabad. Still, on Aug. 14, 2011, several media outlets all around the world, published the news that China was given access by Pakistani intelligence to the remains of the Stealth Black Hawk used during Operation Neptune’s Spear.
Believed to be an exclusive U.S. “black project”, the radar-evading chopper (most probably a quiet one, rather than an actual helicopter invisible to radars), such helos would be used by the IAF to drop Iranian dissidents into Iran to gather intelligence on the Tehran’s nuclear program, according to a report written by Maloof for G2 bulletin, a global intelligence newsletter.
This is the first time someone reports about radar-evading choppers in the hands of Israel.
Even if it’s quite unlikely that the Washington shared the secrets of its most advanced helicopter with Jerusalem, considered that the American Stealth Hawk is probably based on 1978 study freely available on the Internet, we can’t rule out the possibility that the Israeli industry has found a way to modify the IAF Black Hawks (nicknamed “Yanshuf”, English for “Owl”) to make them stealthy.
Provided a Stealth Yanshuf really exists, this is what it would look like in two updated versions of the renderings I conceived with AviationGraphic.com‘s Ugo Crisponi: above, the famous highly modified version with retractable landing gear MH-X (please remember this is not the actual designation), whose shape reminds the one of an S-76; below, the more likely slightly-modified Stealth Black Hawk (described here).