Sikorsky has begun final assembly of its second S-97 Raider prototype compound helicopter. Sikorsky is campaigning the S-97 in the Pentagon's Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) program as part of the Defense Department's Future Vertical Lift initiative to develop future helicopter technologies. Sikorsky is funding 75 percent of S-97 costs with the remainder being contributed by supplier partners including Aurora Flight Sciences, builder of the aircraft's fuselage. The 220-knot S-97 features a coaxial main rotor system and an aft thruster and is based on Sikorsky's experimental X2 design. The S-97 is designed to replace current armed reconnaissance rotorcraft. The first S-97 is currently undergoing powered ground testing in expectation of a first flight later this year. The second prototype will be used for customer demonstration flights.
Ground testing on the first prototype began in February at Sikorsky's facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. Sikorsky rolled that aircraft out in October and has successfully completed software qualification testing, component fatigue testing, and gearbox testing. Ground testing includes verifying the propulsion system, drive train, rotor control system, and pilot-vehicle interface with the aircraft tied down.
Sikorsky is developing other technologies that could eventually find their way onto the Raider. They include the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) for the Defense Advances Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Sikorsky recently announced it had received an $8 million DARPA contract for Phase 1 of the program designed to develop and insert new automation into existing aircraft to enable operation with reduced crew. Sikorsky plans to leverage its Matrix Technology to test and field systems and software that significantly improve the capability, reliability, and safety for autonomous, optionally piloted VTOL aircraft by adding systems intelligence to rotary and fixed wing aircraft to enable them to complete complex missions with "minimal human oversight."
Sikorsky is partnering with the United Technologies Research Center, the National Robotics Engineering Center, and Veloxiti, Inc. to demonstrate the value of applying autonomous technology to a variety of different aircraft including the UH-60 Black Hawk.
Sikorsky fitted an S-76 with fly-by-wire controls and Matrix in 2013 to create the Sikorsky Autonomous Research Aircraft (SARA) flying test lab used for rapid testing of software and hardware. Working with the U.S. Army in 2014, Sikorsky used a UH-60 modified for autonomous flight as part of the Manned Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter (MURAL) program.