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Fastest Helicopter Flies Even Faster

Sikorsky's X2 breaks its own record, reaching 463 km/h

1 min read
Fastest Helicopter Flies Even Faster

In a recent article on this site, a current Sikorsky Aircraft engineer, Thomas Lawrence, and a retired Sikorsky hotshot, David Jenney, detailed how they designed the legendary aircraft company's high-speed helicopter

Sikorsky's flight test engineers were pushing their demonstrator vehicle, the X2, to progressively higher speeds, topping out in August at 435 km/h. The official speed record, maintained by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), is a mere 400 km/h and was set in 1986. Sikorsky was well past that when the September issue of IEEE Spectrum went to press, though the company has yet to jump the hurdles needed to have its new speed record recognized by the FAI.

Sikorsky had good reason to dawdle: On September 15, another test flight took the X2 to 463 km/h (287 mph). According to Lawrence, the speed was limited only by the amount of power available, rather than the helicopter's overall load or vibrations -- issues that have plagued previous attempts at building aircraft capable of both flying fast and performing vertical take-off and landing. To prove the point, the test pilot took the X2 into a shallow dive and reached 481 km/h.

The testing isn't finished yet, Thomas says, so the X2 may well be capable of even faster flight.

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Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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