Prototype Helicopters for our Hellscape Future

Dystopian literature has been on the rise in the last ten years. I don’t have a stat to back that up, but every new youth fiction series that has gained accolades has been about a dystopian future: Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, and Babysitters’ Club. That last one reads way different if you adjust your mindset first.

Sikorsky and Boeing have updated their entry into the U.S. Army’s Future Long-Range Assault competition. It is designated as the SB-1 Defiant, and it looks like something straight out of a “near future” dystopian fiction.

The Army is looking to update its aging vertical lift fleet (fancy words for “helicopters”) by 2030. The Blackhawks, Kiowas, Chinooks, and Apaches have all been in service since the 1980s-1990s. Most of them began development in the 1960s & 1970s… According to the Army, modernizing the helicopter fleet has become more important as it has continued to function in the extreme terrain of Afghanistan.

A prototype of the SB-1 flew last year, and since then, the development team has tweaked the design. The nosecone is sleeker, a triangular style landing gear is added, and the exhaust system changes were made to decrease the thermal profile. The SB-1 has counter-rotating rotors, and instead of a tail rotor, a pusher propeller in its place. The Defiant includes fly-by-wire controls and some autonomy capability. This is supposed to lead to increased safety and a workload reduction for the crew and operations in complex environments. Skynet isn’t that far away.

Test Flight Last Year

 

Top Speed

The Defiant has achieved a speed of 211 knots (242 mph) in straight-and-level flight and 232 knots (267 mph) in a descent. Not quite the statistic of our future hellscape, but that is 20 mph faster than a Blackhawk. There’s a big difference between 80 mph and 60 mph. That difference is exaggerated the faster you are going.

The Developers are preaching versatility with the Defiant. Yes, it can fly fast, but it can also carry stuff and shoot stuff. That’s how specific their press release reads.

Here is their animation that they released with their statement about the updates to the Defiant.

The V-22 Osprey still is considered the fastest vertical rotor aircraft, but the Army does not utilize those. The Osprey began development in 1981 and didn’t see field service until 2007 with the U.S. Marine Corps.

My days of seeing Chinooks, Blackhawks, and the occasional Apache flying overhead may be numbered. But it is probably still a big number. The helicopters of the future are definitely going to be interesting looking.

13 Comments

    1. Doesn’t everyone that lives in a city? Police helicopters are great for policing, but a noise nuisance.

    2. I get Bell news choppers, Chinooks, Blackhawks, and the occasional Apache. The SB-1 or the Bell competitor (a tilt-rotor like the Osprey) will be interesting when they start going by!

    3. The Coast Guard patrols an MH-65 Dolphin or two around San Francisco Bay, and there’s a helicopter service that flies CEOs from Marin County down to Silicon Valley, and hardly a month goes by that there isn’t someone hovering over the city with a steady-cam hanging off the front shooting B-reels and even action sequences. Our municipal police department’s don’t generally have helicopters, but Sheriff’s departments and California Highway Patrol do.

      We only see Osprey when the President comes to visit and the last guy wasn’t a big fan of the West Coast. Now that the Vice President is a local girl maybe we’ll see more of the V-22s. Last time one was around I thought someone was operating a soil compactor on the roof.

  1. Being mentally 2-3 generations behind current tech, opposing rotors remain a fascinating sight to me – and they leave a quite unique sound, too.

    1. I know I’ve posted about it before (only in every vaguely helicopter related post) but if you haven’t heard the sight & sound of a Kaman K-Max synchropter starting up you need togo on a YouTube jaunt looking for it. A synchropter has two drive masts in a “V” and counter rotating rotors that mesh like an eggbeater. There’s a military drone version, too!

      1. Wow, I’m glad you mentioned it again. The top comment on the video I saw was “I have never been so anxious for a helicopter”, and I couldn’t agree more. Fascinating stuff, that little machine can lift three tons…

        1. That and they’re built as multi-lift aircraft. When we have wildfires one hitch in our getalong is that the heavy lift helicopters we use are so high maintenance that they can only drop a couple loads of water before going in for maintenance. A K-Max could take the water out of every swimming pool* for miles around, all day long.

          *You know, when the fires get close to structures; otherwise small ponds.

  2. It looks like a submarine wearing a propeller beanie. It has me singing. “We all live in a yellow SB-1 / A Yellow SB-1 / A yellow SB-1!”

    1. Updated. I caught it on the level flight speed but missed it on descending. Thank you for your service. 🙂

  3. It’s going to be interesting seeing how the Defiant stacks up against the V-280 Valor. The Valor is going to be better at doing airplane things, and the Defiant will be better at doing helicopter things. The sales pitch will be in how well the aircraft can transition between vertical lift and fast forward flight. That’s the flight regime where the V-22 Osprey is most vulnerable. Bell claims to have solved this with advanced flight controls and lessons learned from the Osprey, but I suspect the Defiant still has the edge in the transition.

    Full disclosure: I worked on some electronics for the Defiant, so that’s my bias.

  4. The worlds model kit manufacturers have been very slow at making any kits for these. Still none available.

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