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:
According to some sources, the evasive MH-X may have taken part in the raid that killed Islamic State member Abu Sayyaf.
In the night between May 15 and 16, U.S. Special Operations forces killed ISIS high level operative Abu Sayyaf, in a daring raid that took place in eastern Syria.
Little is known about the raid.
According to the CNN, the operation was conducted by U.S. Army’s Delta Force, which was carried to a residential building in Deir Ezzor, to the southeasth of Raqqa, by Army Blackhawk helicopters and Air Force CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
The presence of some Air Force Special Operations Command Ospreys during a raid against ISIS is not a first.
U.S. Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft probablybased in Kuwait have already conducted missions in Syria and Iraq: on Jul. 3, 2014, some V-22 aircraft were used to carry Delta Force commandos to a campsite in eastern Syria where ISIS militants were believed to hold American and other hostages (that had been moved by the time the commandos attacked the site).
What could really be a “first” is the possible involvement of the Stealth Black Hawk helicopter exposed by the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, back in 2011.
For the moment it’s just a hypothesis, but Homeland Security suggests that the Delta Force team were transported deep into ISIS-held territory “via presumably stealth equipped Black Hawk helicopters” of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) “Night Stalkers”.
160th SOAR’s Black Hawk helicopters presence in the region was first unveiled after an unspecified variant belonging to the U.S. Army took part in an unsuccessful raid to free captured American journalist James Foley and other captives from ISIS in eastern Syria in August 2014.
Even though American aircraft have already demonstrated their ability to operate completely undisturbed well inside the Syrian airspace, we can’t rule out the possibility that the Pentagon, as done in 2011 when the time to kill Bin Laden arrived, considered the importance of the most recent raid against the senior ISIS leader and the failure of at least a couple previous raids, decided to commit the most advanced and secret Black Hawk helicopter to the delicate mission against Abu Sayyaf: the stealth variant.
This week, Sikorsky is expected to start the assembly of the S-97 Raider helicopter prototype, Defense News reports.
The helicopter, among the choppers pitched for the U.S. Army’s Armed Aerial Scout program, to replace the Army’s aging fleet of OH-58 Kiowa Warriors, in use since the late 1960s, features a futuristic shape (compared to that of current helos) and is based on Sikorsky’s X-2 technology.
The S-97 will be a high-speed helicopter with coaxial main rotors and pusher propeller with a capability to either accomodate six troops or sensor in addition to the two pilots in the typical side-by-side cockpit.
The image of the first fuselage, released by Sikorsky, brings to light some interesting details about the Raider and a loose similarity with the MH-X Stealth Black Hawk helicopter exposed by the Osama Bin Laden raid.
Not only the Raider’s nose section is compatible with the concept I developed with AviationGraphic’s Ugo Crisponi in 2011 but the new chopper features a retractable landing gear is a feature that we thought was among the things that could keep the MH-X stealth and silent.
Most probably the MH-X (whose shape remains unknown) is different from the S-97, however it is safe to believe tha Sikorsky has embedded some of the features developed for the secret, radar evading U.S. Army Stealth Black Hawk used by the Navy SEALs at Abbottabad in May 2011, in the new chopper pitched to the Army.
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.
Douglass has published a detailed analysis of the image (including its EXIF file – that dates the image to May 2008….) on his site. This author calls it a fake because, among the other things, the nose cose is somehow irregular as if it was hand-modified.