Rapid rotor: Sikorsky X2 hits 300 mph in test flight

Earlier this year I was in downtown DC for a variety of customer meetings and I happened to pass near the Washington Convention Center. There was a military trade show going on and helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky had set up a static display tent on the lawn of the block right in front of the Center, at the corner of K Street NW and 9th Street NW. Inside, there was a full-scale mock up of their latest design, the X2. She was a different looking bird from most helo’s you’ve seen. While she had a set of rotors up top, it wasn’t the single set deployed on most choppers. This was a coaxial helicopter – 2 sets of rotors one on top of the other. To make her even more exotic, she had a prop mounted on the aft of the fuselage, a “pusher” prop designed for forward thrust.

In short, she looked like she was moving fast parked stock still on the grass. In speaking with one of the Sikorsky folks there, I found out that they were hoping to see her do 250 knots (about 287 mph) in level flight. For the record: that’s fast. Real fast. The previous record is 216 knots or 249 mph. According to this report, they’ve managed to hit that target and more:

According to Sikorsky, which manufactured the futuristic X2 helicopter, the chopper flew a blistering 250 knots during testing on Wednesday, and reached 260 knots (or 300 mph) during a controlled dive.

“The aerospace industry today has a new horizon,” said Sikorsky President Jeffrey P. Pino. “The X2 Technology demonstrator continues to prove its potential as a game-changer, and Sikorsky Aircraft is proud to be advancing this innovative technology and to continue our company’s pioneering legacy.”

The old rotary-wing air speed record of 249 miles per hour had been set in 1986, and the new design clearly exceeds those speeds, having already bested the quarter-century old record handily in early August — earning it the unofficial title of fastest helicopter on the planet.

Sikorsky makes both civilian and military helicopters. The advantage of an attack helicopter that can hit 300 mph, even in a dive, to a military mission is obvious. Speed, in combat, is life. To be able to offer that kind of response speed in a machine that can take off and land pretty much anywhere is a huge capability. There are air forces in the world today that have nothing short of their fighter jets that can match that speed, and fighters can’t match the maneuverability or mission flexibility.

Setting aside the military applications, however, this kind of ship represents a wonderful opportunity to civilian transportation. While helicopters can certainly provide air travel to locations that lack sufficient airport facilities, they aren’t very fast. The speed the X2 can bring to bear literally matches those provided by smaller turboprop commuter aircraft with the flexibility of landing inside city limits, even atop large buildings. The cost/time savings of having to land at an airport located some distance from a city center and then having to take ground transportation in to the final destination would be pretty big in some locations. Even in larger cities, having a helicopter capable of keeping up with the local air traffic would greatly aid in shuttling people to and from the city without presenting a navigation slow-down for all the aircraft competing for the airspace.

Very intriguing development, that’s for sure. I’ll keep an eye on this one and post more as more comes up.

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