The Sikorsky-Boeing joint helicopter initiative known as the SB-1 Defiant made its first flight last week, gingerly leaving the ground and hovering around the airfield at a Sikorsky facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. This test comes more than 15 months after the helicopter’s competition for the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft contract, the Bell V-280 Valor, first took to the skies, but Boeing and Sikorsky are confident their aircraft was worth the wait.
“Today’s flight was a tremendous success and a culmination of a lot of work by the men and women of the Sikorsky-Boeing DEFIANT team,” the joint venture announced in a press release. “So much credit goes to their tireless efforts to get us to where we are today.”
The flight lasted around 30 minutes and didn’t include any particularly daring maneuvers, but marked an important developmental step for the prototype aircraft that leans heavily on Sikorsky’s Advancing Blade Concept rotor design. The idea is to use two stacked rotors that spin in opposing directions to produce lift, with a pusher-propeller to add thrust at high speeds. The Defiant prototype that flew last week is only the fourth aircraft Sikorsky has fitted with such a means of propulsion.
“At the end of the day, this was never about how quickly we got to the first flight, but rather about providing the U.S. Army with the necessary, robust and relevant data that will enable them to make fully informed decisions as they pursue the Future Vertical Lift program and we’re doing that,” they stated.
The dual-rotor approach, Boeing and Sikorsky believe, will grant this new helicopter superior speed when compared to previous helicopter designs, as well as a far greater operational range and maneuverability. Their primary competitor, the Bell V-280 Valor, relies instead on the proven tilt-rotor technology utilized in platforms like the V-22 Osprey to grant the platform superior speed over previous helicopters in service. The V-280 has been racking up flight hours since first taking to the skies more than 15 months ago. It recently hit a milestone of achieving an impressive 280 knots (about 320 miles per hour) in a test flight.
Nonetheless, Sikorsky seems undaunted.
“Defiant is designed to fly at nearly twice the speed and has twice the range of conventional helicopters while retaining the very best, if not better, low-speed and hover performance of conventional helicopters,” Dan Spoor, a Sikorsky vice president, said in a statement.