The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program was initiated by the United States Army in 2018 to develop a successor to the Bell OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter as part of the Future Vertical Lift program. The OH-58 was retired in 2014; three prior programs for a successor were cancelled prior to reaching production: Light Helicopter Experimental (1982–2004, resulting in the Boeing–Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche), Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (2004–06, resulting in the Bell ARH-70 Arapaho), and Armed Aerial Scout (2012–13, evaluating commercial off-the-shelf designs).
Design contracts for FARA candidates were awarded in April 2019 to five manufacturers: AVX Aircraft (in partnership with L3Harris Technologies), Bell Helicopter, Boeing, Karem Aircraft, and Sikorsky Aircraft (owned by Lockheed Martin). In March 2020 the designs from Bell and Sikorsky were selected to proceed to Phase 2 of the competition; this phase will end with a government flight test evaluation no later than the fall of 2023. Selection of a design for production is scheduled for 2028, but may occur sooner.
U.S. Army officials called the FARA its “‘knife-fighter’ of future Army Aviation capabilities”, providing maximum performance in a small package. Per the initial request for proposal, FARA candidates will use the engine selected under the Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP). Performance goals were set with few restrictions aside from maximum dimensions not to exceed 40 feet (12 m) for both rotor diameter and fuselage width. The proposed FARA aircraft must integrate government furnished equipment (weapons and engine) with an affordability goal, and should meet desired range, endurance, and payload targets.
The OH-58 was retired without a clear successor in 2014; three successive programs were cancelled without reaching production; although the Army intended to perform a service life extension program for the OH-58 fleet in 2013, cuts to the defense budget forced its retirement. In lieu of the OH-58, the Army has used Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters paired with AAI RQ-7 Shadow drones in the armed reconnaissance role.
FARA is part of the Future Vertical Lift program and its procurement is largely modeled on the Joint Multi-Role technology demonstration program. The US Army released a draft solicitation on June 22, 2018 for reconnaissance helicopter proposals, with the intent to have two flying prototype designs by 2023, which will compete for the final award. On October 3, 2018, the Army released its formal request for proposal and outlined its proposed schedule:
- Jun 2019: Award four to six initial candidate design contracts
- Mar 2020: Choose two of the initial candidate designs to be developed into flying prototypes
- Nov 2022: Fly-off competition to be held between the two prototype designs
- Future: Award contract based on results from fly-off competition
The FARA procurement, headed by Brigadier General Wally Rugen, would disburse $15 million per candidate selected in the first development phase. The two prototype candidates would each receive $735 million to build flying aircraft for the competition. In April 2019, the Army awarded candidate design contracts to five manufacturers: AVX/L3, Bell, Boeing, Karem, and Sikorsky. MD Helicopters, which was developing a variant of its MD902 Explorer with a wing to meet the Army’s requirements, was not selected for the candidate design phase.
Initial candidate designs
The AVX/L3 candidate design was unveiled at the summit of the Army Aviation Association of America in April 2019. The design, which AVX/L3 call the Compound Coaxial Helicopter (CCH), uses a side-by-side cockpit with main compound coaxial rotors; ducted fans at the tail provide both forward and reverse thrust.
The CEO of Textron, Bell’s parent company, stated that its FARA candidate design would be based on technology developed for the 525, rather than a further development of the V-280 tiltrotor. In October 2019, Bell announced the 360 Invictus as its FARA candidate design, a winged helicopter with a single rotor and ducted tail rotor.
As of October 2019, Boeing had not released details on its FARA candidate aircraft to the public. A Boeing executive declined to state if the recently unveiled Compound Apache would form the basis for the company’s FARA candidate design. On 13 February 2020, Boeing released a teaser video and images of its FARA design. It offers stealth features. More details of the Boeing FARA design were revealed on 3 March 2020; it is a three-rotor compound helicopter with tandem seating.
Karem Aircraft announced in July 2019 it had partnered with Northrop Grumman and Raytheon to design its FARA candidate aircraft. On 16 October 2019, Karem unveiled its AR40 design, a compound helicopter with a rigid main rotor, a swiveling tail rotor/pusher propeller, and a pivoting wing.
Sikorsky stated that its FARA candidate design would incorporate the compound coaxial rotors and pusher propeller design used on its Sikorsky X2 and S-97 Raider; the S-97 had initially been developed for the Armed Aerial Scout program. In October 2019, Sikorsky unveiled the Sikorsky Raider X, a scaled-up version of the S-97 Raider designed to accommodate the General Electric T901-900 turboshaft engine, which had won the ITEP competition in February 2019.
On 25 March 2020, the US Army selected Bell and Sikorsky to move forward to develop flying prototypes.
Bell 360 Invictus
Bell 360 Invictus development
Bell was contracted under other transaction authority for prototype (OTAP) agreement to design a vertical lift aircraft with advanced performance capabilities to face asymmetric threats in multi-domain operations, in April 2019.
In September 2019, Bell Textron entered a partnership agreement with Collins Aerospace Systems for avionics hardware and software incorporating cyber-hardened and enhanced digital solutions.
Collins Aerospace will also offer model-based systems engineering (MBSE) tools and processes to integrate mission avionics into the Bell 360 Invictus aircraft.
The attack and reconnaissance helicopter was unveiled at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) National Conference held in Washington DC in October 2019.
In March 2020, Bell Textron was selected to continue its work on US Army’s FARA programme, after almost a 12-month design and risk-reduction work.
Bell Textron preferred Triumph Systems & Support for the supply of hydraulic components for the Bell 360 Invictus aircraft in May 2020.
Design and features of Bell 360 Invictus
The rotorcraft’s design will be based on Bell 525 Relentless aircraft, which will feature hydraulic pump and reservoir assemblies. The robust, articulated rotor, lift-sharing wing and optimised tail rotor ensure effective attack and reconnaissance operations in both urban and rural areas. The helicopter will accommodate a pilot and a gunner.
The lift-sharing wing of the aircraft will mainly reduce rotor lift demand during forward flight and will offer high-speed manoeuvrability without a complex propulsion and drive system.
A digital toolkit aboard will help in reducing hundreds of man hours and downstream costs. The advanced digital flight control system will further offer an enhanced flight operations.
The helicopter will be fitted with state-of-the-art sensors and air-launched effects to improve situational awareness and lethality across all domains.
The modular open systems approach (MOSA) digital backbone will allow plug and play capability, while the platform will be compliant with future airborne capability environment (FACE). The digital fly-by-wire flight control system of the rotorcraft will be upgradeable throughout its life cycle.
3D digital twin will serve as a common data source as it helps in monitoring survivability and supporting test scenarios for evolving battlefield technology.
Bell 360 Invictus weapon systems
The payload capacity of the aircraft will be approximately 635kg (1,400lb) and the helicopter can carry internal and external weapons payloads.
The aircraft will be armed with an integrated munitions launcher and a 20mm cannon and will have the capability to support air-launched effects. It can also accommodate future weapons and current inventory of munitions.
Engine and performance
Bell 360 Invictus will be powered by General Electric’s T901 turbo-shaft engine, which will serve as the main power unit. The Pratt & Whitney Canada PW207D1 engine aboard the rotorcraft will act as a supplemental power unit delivering power for ground maintenance and system checks. It will also enhance cruise airspeed, dash speed, hover payload and autorotative performance.
The helicopter will be able to fly at a maximum cruise speed of 180k and offer a range of approximately 135nm with more than 90 minutes of time on station.
The main rotor will have high flapping capability ensuring high-speed flight. It will achieve hover out of ground effect (HOGE) of 4k/95F.
Sikorski S-97 Raider
The S-97 Raider is a light tactical helicopter being developed by Sikorsky to demonstrate the capabilities of the company’s X2 Technology. The technology claims to offer safer high-speed flights with improved efficiency and safety.
The S-97 Raider will be offered to the US Armed Forces for flight testing and evaluation for future combat missions. The helicopter is suitable for assault and armed reconnaissance missions. The technology is, however, scalable to a range of other missions such as close-air support, combat search and rescue and special operations. It can fly at speeds of more than 220kt at 10,000ft altitude.
Designed with a lower turning radius and acoustic noise signature, the S-97 is expected to be a game-changer in the light military helicopters segment. The first of two S-97 prototypes was unveiled in October 2014, with its maiden flight scheduled for the end of 2014.
Details of the S-97 Raider development programme
Sikorsky initiated the development of S-97 Raider in 2010 as an advancement of the applications of X2 Technology in next-generation rotor-wing technologies. The company will initially produce two S-97 Raider prototypes and send them to the US Armed Forces for testing and evaluation.
Sikorsky’s aim is to offer the X2-based aircraft for the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) programme of the US Army. The AAS programme involves the procurement of armed reconnaissance aircraft for the US Army.
The first prototype of the S-97 Raider entered final assembly in September 2013 and was powered for first time in June 2014. The company has selected 35 suppliers for the prototype development, with the majority of them being based in the US. It will invest 75% of the project cost, while the suppliers will invest the remaining total.
Companies / contractors involved with the S-97 development
A number of the companies that Sikorsky has teamed-up for the development of the S-97 Raider include Rotating Composite Technologies (RCT), HEXCEL and Eagle Aviation Technologies for the blades; Fischer + Entwicklungen, Aurora, PPG Industries and others for the structure; and Fatigue Technology (FTI), Parker Aerospace, and others for rotors and transmission.
The S-97 Raider development is also being sponsored by a number of companies including GE, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Honeywell, Garmin, Parker Aerospace, and Hamilton Sundstrand.
PPG Aerospace was selected in June 2012 to supply the plastic transparencies for the S-97 Raider prototypes. As part of the supply agreement, PPG will develop and produce coated windshields for the pilot and co-pilot, side windows of the cockpit, as well as the lower observation and fuselage windows.
Design features of the S-97 Raider
The S-97 Raider armed scout helicopter is 37ft long and 16ft wide. It is fitted with a 34ft diameter rotor and a 7ft diameter propeller in the rear.
The fuselage of the helicopter will be built of composite materials. The cabin will have seating for a troop of six. The cockpit can accommodate two pilots in a side-by-side seating arrangement.
The helicopter will be fitted with twin rigid co-axial counter-rotating main rotors. An auxiliary internal fuel tank will be provided aft of the cockpit for extended mission support and operational flexibility. The helicopter features a retractable landing gear and fly-by-wire flight controls.
Additional design features of the S-97 include active vibration control, hub drag reduction, integrated thermal management system and split torque transmission.
Armaments / weapons of the light tactical helicopter
The S-97 Raider will carry armament payloads including Hellfire missiles, 2.75in rockets, a .50 cal gun and a 7.62mm gun. It can also carry additional ammunition for extended missions. The armament space is located aft of the cockpit – towards the tail of the aircraft.
The helicopter can be armed with external weapons and will be equipped with a variety of sensors to support reconnaissance and light attack missions.
Engine / propulsion
The S-97 Raider will be powered by a single engine. The pusher type clutched propeller will enable the helicopter to fly at speeds up to 220kt. The dash speed will be more than 240kt, which is almost double that of a conventional helicopter. An auxiliary power unit will also be provided to start the engine.