Sikorsky and Bell Selected to Compete in the FARA Fly-Off

The US Army Future Vertical Lift team have made the decision to have Sikorsky’s Raider X and Bell’s 360 Invictus compete head to head in a FARA prototype fly-off in 2022. The Army had announced it would pick only 2 of 5 designs to continue on, and in many ways the decision was predictable. The competition had until now included designs from: Sikorsky, Bell, Karem, AVX, and Boeing.

The current competitors (Photo: Akela Freedom)

From the outset, Bell and Sikorsky held an advantage as the major competitors in the JMR-TD program which recently moved to the next phase. Sikorsky has a special advantage because the compound layout of Raider X has been extensively proven by its developmental sibling S-97 Raider. The sleek Raider first began flying in 2015, and with the exception of a 2-year hiatus caused by a flight control failure, the testbed has had remarkable success. The FARA requirements put a premium on speed, with the minimum set at 180 knots. With a top speed well in excess of 200 knots, Raider X holds an edge particularly compared to its rival.

The Contenders

Raider X (Sirkorsky)
360 Invictus (Bell)

Beyond any doubt, Bell 360 will be a slower aircraft than Raider X. Of the 5 competitors, Bell was the only one not to propose a propulsor rotor. They made up for this by focusing on a reduced risk approach, which evidently paid off. Bell proposed a relatively conventional layout that used their model 525 helicopter as a base. Much like Sikorsky, this gives them several years of flight testing experience, which is priceless for fly-by-wire systems.

Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

Boeing had a chance as the manufacturer of the hugely successful Apache attack helicopter and they successfully collaborated with Sikorsky in the JMR-TD program. However, Boeing’s reputation has been severely tarnished with crippling programmatic issues involving KC-46, Starliner, and 737 MAX. This tarnished reputation led to Boeing shedding billions in the 2020 Market Crash and the long term fate of the company remains in question.

Sikorsky-Boeing’s SB-1 Defiant which participated in the JMR-TD program (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

That leaves Karem and AVX. The answer to why they lost is simple, neither company has actually built a helicopter. Both teams had interesting proposals and teamed up with big companies like Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and L3 but even these experienced companies have never worked with helicopters. Sikorsky and Bell are two of the most historied helicopter companies in the entire world, their victory was assured.