Sikorsky’s SB-1 Defiant, an aircraft that uses a modified helicopter design to achieve great speed and fuel-efficiency as well as maneuverability, took its first flight on March 21, 2019, exciting military aviation fans who hope that it’s selected for the Army’s Future Vertical Lift Program.
Sikorsky-Boeing #SB1 Defiant Completes First Flight
The SB-1 Defiant is one of two top contenders for the Future Vertical Lift program, the Army’s effort to replace its aging helicopter fleet. The Army will select a new utility helicopter, likely either the SB-1 Defiant or the V-280 Valor from Bell, that will ferry troops and lighter loads, carry out the wounded in MEDEVAC missions, and fill the rest of the roles currently carried out by the UH-60 Black Hawk.
The current aviation debate is interesting for military aviation aficionados for a few reasons. One is that this sort of contest only occurs every few decades. Another is that neither of the top contenders for the program is a conventional helicopter. The SB-1 Defiant is an evolution of Sikorsky’s X-2 demonstrator. It has two rotor blades similar to a conventional helicopter, but it’s pushed forward by a rear propeller and has no conventional rear rotor.
This makes it much more efficient and faster than a conventional helicopter while retaining all the versatility and maneuverability.
The Sikorsky SB-1 Defiant takes its first flight. It’s a strong contender for the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program.
Its primary contender, meanwhile, is of a tiltrotor design. It can fly fast and far, even farther than the Defiant, but is not as maneuverable or able to fit in as small of places and landing zones. It’s also a direct successor to the controversial V-22 Osprey, a plane that had a horrible safety record during testing. The V-22 did do well with the Marine Corps in the field for a few years, but has run into trouble again recently, suffering four catastrophic crashes from 2015 to 2017.
So, yeah, soldiers care who wins because it decides what will carry them into battle in the 2030s, 2040s, and beyond. And whatever aircraft the Army chooses will instantly have thousands of orders, allowing it to be produced at scale, meaning the manufacturer can offer additional copies to the other services for cheap.
So, the Army’s choice will impact what aircraft the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps can afford to buy for their own services, heavily pushing them to use the same aircraft in at least some roles. (The U.S. Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps all bought UH-60 variants after the Army did, though the Marine Corps bought very few and placed them only in specialty roles.)Sikorsky-Boeing-Defiant-03212019-First-Flight-1
With all this competition and the long-term impact of the decision, it was a mark in the V-280 Valor’s favor that its aircraft had been flying since December 2017 while the SB-1 Defiant was still limited to ground tests until the March 21 test. Now that both aircraft have flown without shaking themselves apart, the manufacturers will have to prove whether each aircraft can live up to the hype.
And then the Army will begin to make its choice, setting the tone of military aviation for the next few decades.