Program teams working on the Bell 360 Invictus and Sikorsky Raider X prototypes have begun the installation process of the GE T901 engine in the two aircraft, after finally receiving the long-awaited powerplants last week.
The aircraft are the two remaining candidates in the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program, which aims to develop a high speed aircraft that will fill the armed scout role left vacant by the retired OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.
The 3,000 shaft horsepower T901 engine is the result of the Army’s Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP). As well as using it in the FARA aircraft, the Army plans to transition the engine into its Sikorsky UH-60 M/V Black Hawk and Boeing AH-64E Apache fleets, providing increased fuel efficiency and 50 percent more power over the existing T700.
“I am incredibly proud of the teamwork and partnership between the Army and GE Aerospace to deliver engines to the FARA-CP,” said LTC Kelley Nalley, ITEP product manager, in a U.S. Army press release. “It has taken several years of development to get here, so it’s exciting to see the T901 come to life in support of Army aviation modernization.”
Bell and Sikorsky received the first two T901s produced by GE on Oct. 20 at their facilities in Fort Worth, Texas, and West Palm Beach, Florida, respectively. The programs are aiming for ground runs in the second quarter of 2024, and first flight by the end of the year.
Bell chose a tandem-cockpit, single main rotor approach for its 360 Invictus, which also has two short lift-sharing wings and a canted tail rotor incorporated into its design.
Speaking at Global Defence Helicopter in Warsaw, Poland, last week, Doug Englen, senior military sales and strategy manager of advanced vertical lift systems at Bell, said the Invictus has been “about 96 percent complete” for much of the last year as the program team awaited the engine.
In a press release announcing the engine delivery, Bell’s Jayme Gonzalez, program manager, FARA, said it was “a major milestone” for FARA and the Bell 360. “Now that we have received the engine, we are ready to begin working toward ground runs and other necessary preparations before first flight later next year.”
Bell said it has been focused on preparing its FARA support infrastructure, supply chain, and manufacturing hub, together with its partners in “Team Invictus.”
“Our team has been hard at work to drive down risk in preparation for ground and flight tests,” said Chris Gehler, senior vice president and program director, FARA. “We are excited to receive the T901 engine and look forward to demonstrating the transformative capabilities of the Bell 360 Invictus.”
Its competitor in the FARA program is the Raider X, a compound helicopter with coaxial, counter-rotating main rotors and a pusher propeller.
Sikorsky said the T901 has been reviewed by U.S. Army and Sikorsky engineers and transferred to the company’s engine integration test lab, alongside the Raider X assembly area.
“Lockheed Martin’s model-based systems engineering approach gives the Sikorsky team confidence in this final phase of the Raider X build which brings us one step closer to completing this weapon system that will match the rapid pace of the reconnaissance mission,” said Sikorksy’s future vertical lift vice president, Andy Adams, in a press release. “The data Raider X gathers – and the speed and agility with which it operates – will support the Army’s mission for deep sensing capability and unsurpassed networking, connecting soldiers and the joint force to the information they need to complete their missions.”
The manufacturer said the Raider X is 98 percent complete, with engine installation set to follow the installation of additional instrumentation.
Bell and Sikorsky also faced off in the U.S. Army’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) competition, with Bell’s V-280 Valor awarded the contract in December 2022.