Futuristic 'Defiant X' in Running to Become Army's Future Long-Range Assault Helicopter

Sikorsky and Boeing released details of the DEFIANT X helicopter.
Sikorsky and Boeing released details of the DEFIANT X helicopter designed for the U.S. Army. (Courtesy Sikorsky and Boeing)

Sikorsky and Boeing Co. have unveiled the futuristic helicopter they're proposing to be the U.S. Army's Future Long Range Assault Aircraft.

In a series of mockup photos and videos, Sikorsky and Boeing officials on Monday revealed Defiant X: a compound coaxial helicopter, like its predecessor the SB>1 Defiant, but with significant upgrades for troops headed into combat zones.

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"We've made some ... enhancements to the design to help reduce thermal signature and improve aerodynamic handling," Heather McBryan, director of sales and marketing for Boeing's Vertical Lift program, told reporters last week ahead of the announcement.

The Army is planning to select a Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, also known as FLRAA, and a Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA, as part of its Future Vertical Lift initiative, or FVL.

The new FVL aircraft will replace aging UH-60 Black Hawks and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, among others.

Sikorsky and Boeing released details of the DEFIANT X helicopter.
Sikorsky and Boeing released details of the DEFIANT X helicopter designed for the U.S. Army. (Courtesy Sikorsky and Boeing)

Sikorsky-Boeing is up against Bell Textron's V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft in the FLRAA competition. A contract award is expected sometime in 2022.

While Sikorsky-Boeing declined to offer details on all the upgrades, the sleek-bodied design includes a modified exhaust system to reduce the aircraft's heat signature and a tricycle-style landing gear "which improves ... stability landing in and taxiing in combat and austere environments," McBryan said in a phone call.

The Defiant X also incorporates elements of Sikorsky's X2 experimental high-speed compound helicopter, which was also used as a starting point for the SB1> Defiant, according to a news release.

The upgrades were born out of the Army's proposed requirements for its next-generation aircraft and additional testing of the Defiant system, the team said.

The Defiant X is "going to go twice as far twice as fast as the current Black Hawk does today," Jay Macklin, director of business development for Sikorsky's Future Vertical Lift program, said during the call.

While the two officials declined to specify the Defiant X's max speed, the SB>1 Defiant achieved 211 knots during flight in October, with 232 knots at its top descent speed.

To improve on Defiant, engineers logged 1,500 simulation hours, 135 hours in the Propulsion Systems Test Bed, or PSTB, and "31 flights, accumulating 26 hours in flight," the companies said.

McBryan said there is autonomy layered within the semi-automatic, electronic avionics system that uses computers to process flight control, known as fly-by-wire. "This is really designed for growth, and so, out in the 2030s, as missions change and threats change, there's that growth capability," she said.

But companies won't add additional autonomy functions unless the Army asks for them, Macklin said.

"[We're] going to demonstrate the exact things that [Army leaders] tell us that they want us to demonstrate, and then move forward as they look to all the capabilities that this aircraft is going to be required...to do," he said.

Because Sikorsky designed the Black Hawk, the team is already familiar with the Army's requirement for that aircraft McBryan added. Like the Black Hawk, Defiant X can fly "in the same type formations as the Black Hawk," she said.

"We understand it's the long range assault aircraft, but at the same time, there's other missions that the Army does that this design has been optimized and excels at," Macklin said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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