While the media (and quite a few Chinese and Russians) tries to work out just what kind of futuristic helicopter the US used in which to sneak into Pakistan and back out again, the fact of the matter is, those helicopters are about to be become obsolete within the next few years.
Due to the limits imposed on helicopters by the use of their rotors, people have been looking at alternative ways in which to rebuild them in which to make them better, faster and stronger than before.
The first real contender was (is) the American V-22 Osprey which is basically a plane which can tilt its wings so it can take off vertically (in fact, it can only take off vertically), beset with numerous problems, it has taken almost 30 years for the US to get it up to working order. But work it does, and currently it is putting in sterling service in Afghanistan. In fact, now that the Americans have ironed out all the bugs, the Italians are producing their own version, the Bell/Agusta BA609.
However, the tech behind the V22 and its stable-mate is almost 30 years old, and something newer (and cheaper) was required. So companies on both sides of the Atlantic attacked the problem from different angles and have come up with interesting concepts.
First of all, let’s look at the Americans. They decided to make their helicopter faster by adding a propeller to the back. So comes forward the Sikorsky X2 which last year smashed the airspeed record for a helicopter, a record, I should add, which had been in place since 1986. While still experimental, it shows promise of not only being faster than today’s kites but quieter and longer ranged. Here is what it looks and flies like:
The Europeans thought along similar lines to the Americans. However, instead of adding a propeller to the back, they added two to the front and have come up with the Eurocopter X3 which offers similar capabilities, faster speeds combined with longer ranges as the X2.
Whatever the outcome of both these aircraft, the simple fact remains, the helicopter as we know it today is destined for the rubbish bin of the not so distant future. BTW, anybody else think that the X3 looks and moves a lot like Airwolf?