Picture: Sikorsky's Raider Breaks Cover

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Sikorsky has begun final assembly of the first S-97 Raider light tactical helicopter following delivery of the single-piece, all-composite fuselage by Aurora Flight Sciences.

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Photo: Sikorsky

Two industry funded prototypes of the high-speed, coaxial-rotor helicopter will be a built and flown at Sikorsky's West Palm Beach, Florida, test center. The first Raider is scheduled to fly at the end of 2014. One will be used for tests, the other for demonstrations.

Powered by a single General Electric YT706 engine from the special-operations MH-60M Black Hawk, the Raider is being aimed at the US Army's Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) requirement, with Sikorsky saying it can build the aircraft for the $15 million unit cost the Army has budgeted.

The Army has not yet decided what to do about its long-standing, star-crossed armed scout requirement (remember the Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche, and Bell ARH-70 Arapaho?). It could extend the service life of the Bell OH-58D/F Kiowa Warrior (odds-on favorite) or have a competition for a replacement.

A competition would most likely pit the Raider against EADS North America's AAS-72X/X+ (armed scout derivative of the UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter, aka the commercial Eurocopter EC145). Cost and risk are therefore big factors, and why Sikorsky and its suppiers are spending around $200 million on two prototypes (and why EADS has three AAS-72X tech demonstrators flying).

Sikorsky is pushing for a competition, but not too soon as it wants the Raider to be flying before the Army makes its downselect. And for good reason, as this 11,000lb helicopter will do things no other can, because of its speed, rigid-rotor agility, coaxial-rotor efficiency, high power-to-weight ratio and aft propulsor (both needed for speed). But they have to hit that $15 million mark.

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