Heliborne S-97 Raider in Scout Heli Limbo
Updated: Sep 23, 2022
Is a scout that cannot scout still technically a scout?
The Sikorsky S-97 Raider continues to be one of the most eye-catching rotary-wing prototype designs to come out in a long time. Speaking specifically about helicopter flight shooters, you don't often see prototype and experimental designs in their rosters. Most of these games use well-known airframes like the Mi-28 Havoc, AH-64 Apache, Mi-24 Hind, and UH-60 Blackhawk, for example. Even the long-canceled RAH-66 Comanche continues to be presented as a type of super attack helicopter even though it has been well over a 15 years since it last flew or was seriously considered for production. This is why I am so excited to see the S-97, a contemporary prototype for a next-generation helicopter, appear in a game.
For those that don't know, Heliborne: Enhanced Edition is a combat-focused helicopter flight game that features dozens of Russian, American, and Chinese combat helicopters. The entire roster of helicopters is separated into three distinct classes: Attack, Transport, and Scout helicopters. Each class has their own strengths and weaknesses. Their traits are especially prevalent in player versus environment (PvE) and player versus player (PvP) game modes. While transport helicopters can carry large amounts of troops and attack helicopters can employ large volumes of firepower, scout helicopters specialize in more of a support role.
In the real world, the S-97 Raider was created to meet and exceed the requirements of the U.S. Army's Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) competition. As an armed reconnaissance or "scout" helicopter that can be reconfigured for other roles, its design utilizes coaxial rotors and a variable-pitch pusher prop to cruise at high-speeds in excess of 200 KTS (220 KTS according to official material). This translates to Heliborne well with the Raider capable of reaching and maintaining at least 170 KTS in level flight. This makes it one of the fastest - if not the fastest - helicopters in the game. Its high speed is ideal for traversing even the largest maps Heliborne has to offer.
In Heliborne, scout helicopters are the eyes of the attack force. Able to spot enemies for all allies to see while being an indirect fire coordinator. They are in no way designed to be slinging rockets and bullets while soaking up direct enemy fire for extended periods of time. With their Mortar Observer equipment, the scout helicopters can identify targets from safe distances, making medium and long-range strikes against enemies by allied transport and attack helicopters easier. The Mortar Observer's primary use is to call in indirect fire from mortar teams that can be deployed by player-controlled transport helicopters. It's possible for a single scout helicopter to destroy entire formations of ground forces and entrenched positions on its own with enough mortar teams at its disposal.
This is where the Heliborne version of the S-97 has an awkward problem. This next-generation scout helicopter does not have Mortar Observer equipment. In fact, it's not even a scout. It is instead designated as an attack helicopter with three weapons configurations that are weak in comparison to other helicopters in its assumed class. There are also other scout helicopters that have more effective weapons configurations while retaining their Mortar Observer equipment. It feels as though the Raider is still abiding by scout class weapons restrictions for game balancing while not gaining the benefit of actually being a scout helicopter.
Heliborne: Enhanced Edition was released on August 20th, 2020 with the S-97 Raider being part of the new content introduced. Around a dozen major and minor patches have come out since then, and it is still in this unusual state of being. It definitely does not feel like an oversight at this point but more like an intentional design decision. This puts the S-97 in a weird spot on the game's overall roster. Being at the very end of the American-European branch of research, the path to unlock the Raider gives players access to helicopters that have better weapon options and great flight characteristics at lower research costs. This makes the Raider somewhat of a trophy that's flown more for the sake of being cool than overwhelmingly useful.
With Klabater continuing updates to both stabilize Heliborne Enhanced Edition and prepare it for a game console release, there's still a chance for changes to be made. Hopefully the day will soon come when we can see the Raider flying to its fullest potential.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.