The competition to be the next Army helicopter is heating up. On June 20th, Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider once again took flight completing a 90-minute demonstration, the first since an August 2017 crash caused by flight software errors grounded the program

According to Sikorsky, the S-97 will be capable of ‘light assault, light attack, armed reconnaissance, close-air support, combat search and rescue, and unmanned applications.’ which would make the Raider a virtual flying Swiss Army knife. 

With a more conventional twin rotor design (in the sense that there is only one operational tilt-rotor aircraft operating in military’s around the world, and that is the V-22) than the Bell V-280 Valor, the Raider is designed to allow maximum maneuverability, capable of speeds of around 250 miles per hour and dropping six fully loaded troops into the fray. It has a reported range of 350 miles and can hover at an altitude of 10,000 feet.  By comparison, the Valor can reach speeds of 322 miles per hour and has a range of between 500 to 900 miles depending on the configuration.

But the main selling point of the S-97 Raider comes out of the war in Afghanistan, where high altitude was king and helos would be stripped down to make it into the high mountain passes of the Hindu Kush. Not only does the S-97 have a much higher hover service ceiling, but it also can operate when it’s hot as well as high, with a max temperature rating of 95 degrees Fahrenheit — perfect for missions in the Middle East and Africa. (By comparison, the Valor has a hover service ceiling of roughly 6,000 feet, but the Valor can also cruise at 20,000 feet). Why the hot performance matters comes down to how lift is achieved. In hotter temperatures, air is thinner, which impacts how high the air-frame can go, how much fuel it is using, and other performance characteristics.

helicopter, helo, blackhawk, raiderSikorsky
An artist’s depiction of the S-97 performing operations in a high-heat environment.

It’s worth noting that there’s also a bigger, badder version of the S-97 on the way, the SB-1 Defiant. The Defiant is primed to be larger, faster, and able to fly farther than the S-97. Sikorsky is aiming to throw the one-two punch, by offering the S-97 to take on the Kiowa/Apache role, while the SB-1 takes on the heavier lift role of the UH-60 Blackhawk.

As the competition to become the next Army helicopter heats up, it will be interesting to see who will come out on top, the long range of the Bell V-280 Valor, or the maneuverability and high altitude S-97 Raider combined with the size of the SB-1 Defiant. One thing is certain: the future of Army Aviation certainly looks cool.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article did not specify the Bell V-280 maximum service ceiling mentioned of 6,000 ft. at 95 degrees Fahrenheit referred to the hover ceiling versus a cruise ceiling of around 20,000 ft. (Updated 6/25/2018; 1:133pm EST)