Heard on the Hill

When Shakespeare Met Sikorsky

Sen. Richard Blumenthal leaves a showcase of Sikorsky helicopters Wednesday near the Folger Shakespeare Library that included the X2 Technology Demonstrator, pictured behind him. The X2 has achieved speeds of almost 300 mph, twice the speed of conventional helicopters. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Folger Shakespeare Library contains the largest selection of the Bard’s writings and scholarship in the world, stages new interpretations of his plays — such as its recent Wild West “Taming of the Shrew” — and hosts the PEN/Faulkner writing awards.

And on Wednesday, the Folger welcomed the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.

With its proximity to the Capitol, the Folger driveway showed off the company’s newest toys, the single-engine X2 TECHNOLOGY Demonstrator and the still-in-development S-97 RAIDER helicopters. According to the company, these next-generation choppers fly more than twice as fast as today’s, topping out at around 250 knots, or about 300 mph, a breakthrough in flight technology.

Kevin Bredenbeck, Sikorsky’s chief test pilot, is the only person to take the $50 million X2 for a ride, 23 times to be exact.

It was during his 12th flight that Bredenbeck pushed the X2 past 250 knots, and that was with some power to spare.

“Come home,” Bredenbeck remembers the ground team telling him after hitting the mark. “Turn around. Come home. We did it.

“When the canopy opened, I had an allergy attack, if you know what I mean,” he says.

Hugging, cheering and tears came at him from all around, from guys who he says have never cried in their lives.

Then someone handed Bredenbeck the phone: It was his wife on the line asking whether he could deal with the armadillo that was leaving holes around the garden.

Just a quick reminder, he says, that he was just a man.

One minute you’re breaking flying records, he says with a laugh, the next you’re dealing with armadillos.

In 2014, Sikorsky hopes the S-97 RAIDER, a military helicopter, will be ready for its maiden flight.

The price tag, we’re told, is proprietary but is significantly higher than the $50 million total that the X2 required.

The company is betting that its first customer will be the U.S. military, but if it doesn’t bite, then it will hawk its wares to paramilitary groups and others.

At 52, Bredenbeck won’t be manning these next test flights.

He has two younger pilots who are ready to take over flying duties, while he’ll be in charge of all flight operations.

Flying is still his “passion,” he says, before adding that sometimes, “I wish I was 30 again.”

Topics: awesomesauce