Technology breakthroughs in the helicopter industry can be huge because they change the history of rotor flight, or because they refer to really big flying machines. In the case of Sikorsky, both uses of the word apply.
History-altering advancements were reported by AOPA last year. A small technology demonstrator, a twin-rotor helicopter that can be ramped up in size, sped through 250 knots. When that goal was announced years ago, Sikorsky President Jeffrey P. Pino said, learned scientists and aerodynamicists informed him the math wouldn’t work. It was impossible to fly a helicopter at 250 knots indicated airspeed. Pino’s remarks came at a press conference during the Helicopter Association International convention in Orlando, Fla. March 7.
It will first be a “Raider” military attack helicopter, and one day it could be an emergency medical helicopter that carries patients a greater distance during the first “golden hour” after an injury. The S-97 Raider will fly in four years as a 9,000-pound to 10,000-pound aircraft. It has dramatic differences from conventional single-engine helicopters. It can fly at 210 to 230 knots indicated airspeed, fully armed. Its acoustics are 50 percent less than a conventional helicopter. It can turn in half the radius of a conventional helicopter. It can pull three Gs, carry a payload 40 percent more than a conventional helicopter its size, and hover at an altitude that is 150 percent greater than helicopters of its class.
Who says a helicopter needs a pilot? Sikorsky has flown a formation of two of its famous Black Hawk helicopters: The lead aircraft had a pilot; the one following closely in formation did not. Sikorsky helicopters have the ability to determine whether they are taking ground fire, and if so, from what direction. Both the piloted and unpiloted helicopters can then take evasive action. Finally, an unpiloted helicopter can return to being a piloted helicopter simply by throwing a switch.
You want to talk about big helicopters? The design of the new CH-53K monster cargo helicopter is complete. Its main rotor hub, just the hub, weighs more than an entire Black Hawk helicopter, or 15,000 pounds. Just the tail rotor of the CH-53K has the same thrust as the main rotor of the company’s S-76 helicopter. The main rotor of the CH-53K has as much thrust as the main rotor of six Black Hawk helicopters. The helicopter weighs 88,000 pounds. It carries 27,000 pounds of payload.
Sikorsky has an electric helicopter with a 200-horsepower motor that can fly for 15 minutes, even though it must lift 1,100 pounds of batteries. “If we could get an hour, we could change the training industry,” Pino said. It may make more sense to power just the tail rotor with electricity, yet it would still represent a fuel savings.
Why all the research and development? Sikorsky has done relatively well during the recession, and has poured it back into advanced technologies. It assigned a group of engineers to stay 20 years in the future. It looks like they are succeeding.