Football fans won’t just find a heated rivalry between Army and Air Force teams on Nov. 5 at the Lockheed Martin Commanders’ Classic game at Globe Life Field. They’ll also see a prototype of a next-generation reconnaissance helicopter Lockheed Martin company Sikorsky is trying to sell the U.S. Army. 

The S-97 Raider X is Sikorsky’s answer to the high tech scouting aircraft. Its competition is Bell Textron, Inc.’s 360 Invictus. Both companies are vying for the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft. The aircraft is one of two contracts as part of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift  which is an effort to modernize the Army. 

Right now, Boeing and Lockheed Martin produce 90% of the Army’s helicopters and the contracts could be worth billions of dollars for the company that wins the contract.

Bell and Sikorsky’s prototype helicopters will compete in a “government-sponsored fly off,” in 2023, according to a statement from Brig. Gen Walter Rugen, director of Future Vertical Lift’s cross functional team in an Army release. 

A mainstay of the Raider X is its X-2 technology — two rigid rotors that spin in opposite directions on top with a tail rotor in the back, Jay Macklin, Sikorsky director of Future Vertical Lift, said. That helps the helicopter go faster than previous iterations of reconnaissance helicopters. 

A mainstay of the Raider X is its “X-2” technology – two rotors on top that spin in opposite directions. (Seth Bodine | Fort Worth Report)

Ergonomically, Macklin compares Raider X to a Ferrari.

The tail rotor allows the aircraft to speed up or slow down. With a second engine, it could reach up to 240 knots, the equivalent of about 276 miles per hour. He considers the X-2 technology as an advantage in the competition. 

Raider X also has a large weapon bay, but can be adapted to load up to six people in the back. 

“As a former aviation commander in the Army, you always want flexibility because you want to be able to tailor the mission, tailor the aircraft to exactly what the mission requires,” Macklin said. 

As the Army looks to 2030 and beyond, Macklin said the military could face sophisticated enemy air defense technology. That’s why it’s important that the reconnaissance helicopter can fly low to the ground.

“If you fly high … you’re not going to survive,” Macklin said. “So low level, very agile and high speed is going to be the key to survival.” 

The view of a helicopter from the back, which has a propulsor
The Raider’s tail rotor helps the aircraft fly faster. (Seth Bodine | Fort Worth Report)

The Raider X prototype was built in 2014, and is about 80% to scale with the actual size of the competitive version. The competitive prototype is currently being built in West Palm Beach, Florida, Macklin said. He said the competitive prototype is 92% complete. 

A Sikorsky and Boeing team also are competing against Bell Textron for the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, which will replace the UH-60 Black Hawk. The chief of staff to the Army, Gen. James McConville, said during a speech that the contract decision will be made in the coming months, after indications it could come in August or September, according to reports. 

Bell and Lockheed Martin are big employers in Fort Worth and Tarrant County. 

Lockheed Martin employs more than 22,000 people in the Fort Worth area and has produced aircrafts such as the F-16 Falcon and F-35 Lightning II at the company’s aeronautics facility, according to a Lockheed Martin spokesperson. About 100 Sikorsky employees at Lockheed Martin’s Beach Street Facility work on supporting Future Vertical Lift. 

Bell, headquartered in Fort Worth, employs more than 4,000 people. 

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

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Seth BodineBusiness Reporter

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....