Russia expects to test fly a new high-speed helicopter gunship prototype in 2019. Compared to even the fastest conventional helicopters—which are physically limited to roughly 200 miles per hour due to the dissymmetry of lift—the new Russian design is expected to fly at speeds exceeding 400km/h or roughly 250 miles per hour.
"Next year, we will continue experimental design work,” Rostec chief executive officer Sergei Chemezov told the state-owned TASS news agency . “We have developed quite substantial potential. The first flight tests of the experimental helicopter may take place during 2019 or closer to its end.”
The new aircraft is under development at the Mil design bureau, which is part of Rostec’s Russian Helicopter Group. According to TASS, the Mil engineers have developed a “revolutionary” rotor design that allows the new helicopter to overcome the fundamental challenges of the dissymmetry of lift—particularly retreating blade stall.
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TASS did not offer any additional details, but there are several potential approaches that Mil could have taken to overcome the traditional limitations of helicopter aerodynamics. One solution would be to use a rigid coaxial rotor design combined with a pusher-prop as Sikorsky did with its groundbreaking X-2 design . The X-2 subsequently spawned the Sikorsky S-92 Raider and the SB>1 Defiant prototypes, which could eventually be developed into operational helicopters for the Pentagon.
Another approach that Mil could take is the tilt-rotor model similar to the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey. Bell has refined its tilt-rotor technology to the point where it could be practical for a future gunship design as its V-280 Valor clearly demonstrates. The drawbacks are somewhat compromised hover capability and complexity, but the advantages are up and away performance that is arguably as good as or better than any comparable turboprop fixed-wing aircraft.
Another approach that the Russians might have taken is that of the Europeans with their X-3 design. The X-3 design adds wings and propellers to generate additional lift and to counter the dissymmetry of lift with differential thrust. The X-3 concept is being refined into Airbus’ Rapid And Cost-Effective Rotorcraft design.
It is also possible that the new Mil design builds on the Russian experiences with the company’s Prospective Speedy Helicopter (or PSV) Demonstrator, which was a modified Mi-24 Hind with curved rotor blades. It could also be that the new helicopter draws on technology developed for the Mi-X1 and Ka-92 concepts. Given that the Russians have a goal of reaching sustained speeds of 270 knots or 310 miles per hour, it is very unlikely that Mil is relying solely on PSV technology to develop the new gunship. It is possible that the new machine combines a number of approaches to meet its goals.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest . You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar .
Image: Creative Commons.