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World's fastest helicopter races above Palm Beach County

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PalmBeachPost -- By Stacey Singer

 

Sikorsky had picture perfect weather to show off the world's fastest helicopter Wednesday morning, and X2 test pilot Kevin Brendenbeck didn't waste the opportunity."Are you ready to get spanked?" he asked the Bell 407 pilot about to race him over the swampy tarmac off Beeline Highway.

 

It was a first glimpse of the X2 for media and for many of the subcontractors whose components helped make the aircraft; an adrenaline-fueled day designed to amp up excitement for a project Sikorsky has spent over five years and untold millions developing, all on spec.

 

Sikorsky is betting that the military and the civil aviation markets will welcome a high-tech aircraft able to combine the maneuverability of a chopper with the elegant speed of a jet. And so Sikorsky CEO Jeffrey Pino announced Wednesday that after 18 test flights, it was ready to incorporate its X2 demonstrator technology into a new light tactical military aircraft prototype dubbed the Sikorsky S-97, aka the Raider.

 

"We are absolutely committed to doing this," Pino said during a media briefing after the race.

 

Sikorsky engineers said the Raider is actually needed by the U.S. Army right now, and in a big way. The mountainous terrain of Afghanistan isn't just inhospitable to Jeeps. High altitudes and thin air make about 53 percent of the country out of reach of helicopters. But not the X2-based Raider, Pino said.

 

Because the helicopter is powered by both its twin rotors and its pusher propeller, it has enough force to fly at 10,000 feet, enabling it to cover nearly all of the Afghani terrain, Sikorsky said.

 

The X2 demonstrator has been in development at Sikorsky's West Palm Beach test facility off Beeline Highway since July 2009. In a test flight last month, the X-2 hit 250 knots, or 287 miles per hour, unofficially beating the world helicopter speed record, nearly twice the speed of conventional helicopters, like the Bell 407 it was racing on Wednesday morning.

 

It's possible because of computerized vibration-controlling systems and a fly-by-wire digital pilot that simplifies a pilot's tasks, not to mention light but strong composite materials that make its pusher propellar and counter-spinning twin rotors.

 

In its flight test, the X2 moved with the agility of a dragonfly on jet fuel.

 

Even with a long head start, Bell pilot Bill Fell played tortoise to Sikorsky's X2 caffeinated hare.

 

It wasn't a fair contest.

 

Going full out, the Bell hit a leisurely 140 knots, about 161 miles per hour. The X-2?

 

At about half-power, sounding like a cross between an angry bee and a freight train, it easily hit 210 knots, or 241 miles per hour, just 7 knots behind the all-time speed record for a helicopter.

 

For the pocket-protector set -- the mechanical engineers and test pilots gathered for the show, it was a gleeful day.

 

"If you follow the aviation industry, it doesn't get any more exciting than today," said Chris Van Buiten, director of Sikorsky Innovations, the skunkworks that developed the aircraft. "The performance is even better than we thought."

 

 

 

Palm Beach Post

 

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Sikorsky has proposed the S-97 Raider to the US Army as a spin-off from the X2 demonstrator program:

http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2010/10/20/348764/sikorsky-unveils-s-97-for-high-speed-scout-and-attack-helicopter-contest.html

 

The S-97 would feature the same coaxial rotor and pusher-propeller technology, but would be scaled up so that it could carry troops and weapons.

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