Following much speculation, Sikorsky and Boeing have finally revealed their new prototype helicopter, which is vying to become the U.S. Army’s next utility helicopter. There are two contestants left in the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programme, which will produce the next generation utility helicopter. Competing with the SB-1 Defiant is the Bell V-280 Valor.
The Army uses the Joint Multi-Role demonstrator programme to assess the two airframes, which are quite different, and then decide which is more desirable for the Army’s future operational requirements. The data that will be gathered from the SB-1s and V-280s protoflights will enable the Army to decide the requirements for the FVL. The new helicopter is expected to enter service early in the next decade.
The SB-1 is a coaxial chopper, meaning that it has two rotors on the same axle, which makes it more reliable and decreases maintenance time and costs. On the other hand, the V-280 is a tiltrotor chopper, meaning that it has two rotors mounted on two fixed-wings — it resembles the V-22 Osprey. The V-280 has been conducting test flights since December 2017.
According to a statement by the Sikorsky-Boeing team, the Defiant will be capable of flying at twice the speed and have twice the range of the Army’s current conventional helicopters. Further, it will be more agile and manoeuverable and will have the capability to fold its rotors. The helicopter’s first flight has been pushed to early 2019 following a technical problem that was spotted during the ground tests earlier this year.
“We are going to slip our first flight into early 2019. While it’s not necessarily, I’m sure, what a lot of folks would have liked — it’s not necessarily what we would have liked — we continue to build confidence in our configuration,” said Rich Koucheravy, who is Sikorsky’s director of business development for the FVL programme.
From the Boeing side of the house, Randy Rotte, who is Boeing’s director of global sales and marketing for cargo helicopters and FVL, said that the delay has been caused because a few small components required mechanical repairs. And the process of sending them back to the factory, repairing them, and reinstalling them on the prototype will take around three weeks.
“It’s nothing that requires a redesign of major components or any of those pieces,” he added. “It was just, candidly, some interactions that the models perhaps didn’t all capture.”
The joint Sikorsky-Boeing team aims for at least 15 hours of uneventful ground testing before the first flight.