3 Trends That Are Shaping Future Helicopters

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Speed. Power. Safety.
Explore the technologies and trends shaping the next-generation of helicopters around the world.

When Sikorsky and the American Helicopter Society (AHS) International challenged their aviation engineers to create a helicopter that used human-generated power to hover at nearly 10 feet above the ground for one minute, physicists, academia and industry professionals said it was impossible.

But sure enough, after 33 years, one team cracked the code. This “impossible” task was actually feasible, and the rotorcraft hovered for 64 seconds.

Discover three trends shaping the helicopter industry and the technologies that will make them possible. 


TREND 1: MULTI-MISSION HELICOPTERS

There is a growing need to use platforms and systems for more than one purpose, and in more than one environment.

The helicopter of the future will be able to adapt to different situations – moving seamlessly from delivering supplies, to combat, to search and rescue.

Three technologies making helicopters adaptable include:  


X2 Technology® increases the speed and maneuverability of the aircraft, and can be scaled to multiple helicopter classes. This technology provides the foundation for the S-97 RAIDER® helicopter and the SB>1 DEFIANT™ helicopter. 

 X2 Technology
 enables the S-97 RAIDER® helicopter to fly approximately 275 miles per hour, nearly double the speed of an average helicopter. Speed is a core component of the U.S. military’s future vertical lift (FVL) plans.

FVL is the U.S. military’s program to overhaul its helicopter fleet with a completely new platform design, new materials and new technology capabilities. The program challenges industry to develop new rotorcraft that are quicker, more efficient to maintain, and can fly longer.


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Long-range sensors and weapon systems make helicopters lethal while staying out of harm’s way during targeting, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. 

New modular targeting systems like INFIRNO™ will help these aircraft adapt to future missions, and we’re also developing advanced sensors that can detect threats and operate in zero-visibility conditions.


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Onboard “brains” make helicopters smarter, and autonomous technology allows us to use the aircraft in different ways.

Optionally-piloted helicopters like the U.S. Marine Corps’ K-MAX cargo helicopter and Sikorsky’s MATRIX™ technology program use advanced sensors and systems intelligence so that operators can confidently fly their rotorcraft safely and reliably in manned or unmanned configurations.

And these autonomous technologies can be installed on helicopters for both military and civilian missions including firefighting, medical evacuation and cargo transport.


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TREND 2: THINKING GLOBALLY

This trend toward thinking globally isn’t limited to the U.S. Other countries are recognizing the value in helicopters that can easily operate and communicate with allied forces around the world.  

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One way we’re connecting international forces is with Common Cockpit on board MH-60R and MH-60S helicopters. This system is made up of four large panels with night-vision and color displays that stream data into the cockpit. U.S. Navy, Royal Australian Navy and Royal Danish Navy MH-60R and MH-60S helicopter operators rely on the Common Cockpit for information on everything from weather conditions to weapons and sensor data.

“By designing the MH-60 Romeo and Sierra variants with the same software architecture and common hardware, we’re able to field upgrades for the U.S. Navy and our international partners much more effectively,” said Tom Kane, director of Naval Helicopter Programs for Lockheed Martin.

And in July, Lockheed Martin completed integration work on two international helicopter fleets: supplying the missions systems for the Royal Australian Navy’s MH-60R “Romeo” helicopters and upgrading systems on the U.K. Royal Navy’s Merlin Mk2 helicopters. 


TREND 3: USING BIG DATA FOR SAFETY

Whether flying to a remote oil rig or navigating harsh environments to perform rescue missions, pilots and passengers rely on the helicopter to get them there – and home – safely. Using the emerging tools of big data analysis, an entire fleet can be monitored at once to identify potential safety risks.

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Sikorsky has continued to enhance safety with the extensive use of health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) data.  HUMS provides extensive data on helicopter system health which is utilized for proactive maintenance and can be leveraged to rapidly clear the aircraft for the next flight, saving time and money.

Analysts at Sikorsky’s Customer Care Center use HUMS data to help keep aircraft in tip-top shape from nose to tail by ensuring parts are available where and when you need them.

“Ultimately, everything we do – every new technology we develop – considers the impact to improving the safe operation of our aircraft,” said Dana Fiatarone, Lockheed Martin vice president, Sikorsky Commercial Systems & Services. “It’s always going to be our highest priority and an uncompromising value as we look at current helicopters and those that are taking us into the future.”


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