Dreams Take Flight

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to fly a helicopter. There’s something magical and visceral about them. You can feel the rotors thumping throughout your whole body. You fly with both arms, both legs, both eyes, and both ears. The aircraft becomes an unforgiving extension of your body.

My dad owned a low-wing KR-2 that he had built in our garage, and I learned to fly fixed wing at age 14, even before I could drive a car. Fast forward a few years later, and I was an Army cadet itching to get into the cockpit of an Apache or a Cobra. I took the AFAST (Alternate Flight Aptitude Selection Test) and scored well. Well enough for the Army to send me for a flight physical. It was there that I became a “no-go.” My vision was good enough to shoot but not to fly for the military. It just wasn’t in the cards.

That’s OK, though; I logged lots of passenger time in my career and never lost my love of military helicopters. That’s why I’m so excited to tell you about the Raider X; a candidate to be the Army’s newest high-speed Hellfire-equipped helicopter.

FARA – way

Maybe you’ve heard of FARA. According to the official website of the US Army, army.mil, FARA is the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program. It was initiated as a subprogram of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative to develop a replacement for the Kiowa scout helicopter. Not to go too far down the rabbit hole, but in regards to the FVL, imagine something like the V-22 Osprey, but without so many problems.

A walkaround and a brief description of the Raider X. Video courtesy of YouTube and DefAero Report

Test pilot Bill Fell tells us about the S-97 Raider. What you see above is “aircraft 1”. It flew a total of 20 hours and then was retired. Nevertheless, it served as proof of concept that something with all of those blades cutting through the air could actually become airborne. You’ll notice that in addition to a set of stacked counterrotating rotor blades, there is a pusher prop that sends the aircraft to a top speed of a little above 200 knots. As a point of reference, the VNE, or never exceeded on a typical Black Hawk helicopter, is 193 knots with cruising speeds in the mid-150s.

Fell describes the “airplane-like” feature of the Raider; there are elevators and rudders on the tail. These are used as control surfaces mainly in higher-speed flight. He explains how in low-speed flight, the pilot uses the difference in torque between the main rotors to coordinate turns. It’s pretty ingenious. To quote an ominous line from “Lone Survivor” as they were planning their ill-fated mission, “lots of moving parts.”