The helicopter pioneers at Lockheed Martin's Sikorsky division say they have the chopper of the future ready to report for duty. The S-79 Raider makes several breaks from convention to deliver un-helicopter-like performance.
The biggest change is the use of twin-counterrotating main rotors to provide lift and turning. Most choppers use a single main rotor, which cause the helicopter to want to spin its fuselage in the opposite direction from the rotor.
They control that tendency with a side rotor on the tail, a device which increases aerodynamic drag at speed and which is vulnerable to damage.
The Raider's second advance is the use of an airplane-like rear-mounted pusher turboprop engine to push the helicopter forward at much higher speeds than is possible when just relying on tilting the main rotor forward to gain speed.
In fact, the S-79 can go 250 mph, which is nearly double the top speed of conventional helicopters. That means it can deliver troops and firepower to the scene sooner and it can depart more quickly, reducing its exposure to getting shot down.
It can also fly as high as 10,000 feet, even in the thin air of a 95-degree day, placing it beyond the reach of small arms fire.
"This aircraft is simply miraculous," enthused U.S. Navy helicopter pilot Jack McCain on Twitter. "Significantly more useful design than tilt rotor," he added. Yes, he's Sen. John McCain's son.
The Raider incorporates the latest advances in fly-by-wire, flight controls, vehicle management systems, and systems integration to operate at high speeds while maintaining the low-speed handling qualities and maneuverability of conventional single main rotor helicopters.
It should also benefit from an intimidation factor from its sheer amazing appearance. Hopefully our troops will gain the benefit of this incredible machine soon.