Among the many lessons that emerged from the Ukraine war, the vulnerability of combat helicopters was particularly highlighted, to the point that despite obvious material superiority in this area, Russian air combat capabilities were largely under-exploited after the disaster of the attack on Hostomel airport. Because of their low speed, the Russian aircraft were easily targeted by Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems, and in particular MANPADS infantry missiles. In addition, the destruction on the ground of nearly 40 aircraft on the Kherson base by artillery strikes also highlighted the obligation to deploy these aircraft from bases much further from the line of engagement than previously considered. In fact, if the concept of aérocombat is not called into question, the war in Ukraine shows that it is now essential to have aircraft that are both faster and have a reach far greater than those of the Mi-8, Mi-35, Mi-28 and other Russian Ka-52 generation helicopters.
This observation is not in itself a revelation. Indeed, the Futur Vertical Lift program, one of the 6 pillars of the US Army's BIG 6 super program, aims precisely to develop new generation helicopters that meet these precise specifications, with FLRAA (Future Long Range Assault Aircraft) programs to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk maneuver helicopter, and the FARA (Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft) for the replacement of the OH-58 Kiowa (retired in 2014) and part of the AH-64 Apache. Among the imperatives of the US Army, each of the devices must be able to exceed the speed of 200 knots, must be 50% faster than that of the devices they will replace, but also offer comparable gains in terms of reach. To respond to this, the two aircraft manufacturers selected by the US Army relied on tilt-rotor technology for Bell's V-280 Valor, or that of counter-rotating rotors and pusher propeller for Sikorsky's Raider-X and Defiant. If these technologies do indeed make it possible to meet the expectations of the US Army, they are on the other hand complex to design and maintain, and expensive to acquire and maintain.
In Europe, Airbus Helicoptere is also committed to this challenge of super-speed helicopters, with the X-3 demonstrator, which made its first flight in 2010, and which manages to reach 254 knots (472 km/h) in level flight at 3000 m June 2013. But unlike the American aircraft, the European demonstrator relied on an approach that was as elegant as it was innovative, placing two nacelles equipped with traction propellers on either side of the cell. In this way, the nacelles provided the necessary traction to increase the speed of the device, taking the necessary energy directly from the two RTM332 turbines that fitted the device, and thereby ensuring the anti-torque function vis-à-vis main pitch screw. It is on this technological basis that the Racer program was developed. Successor to the X-3, the Racer is a European program on a civil basis aiming not only to exceed the cruising speed of 200 knots, but also to reduce fuel consumption by 50% and aircraft noise by 20%. -à-vis an equivalent helicopter, so as to meet certain needs such as sea rescue for example. This very promising demonstrator, currently being assembled, should make its first flight by the end of the year.
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