U.S. Army Taps Contractors To Provide Rotorcraft Demonstrators

 - June 7, 2013, 10:50 AM
Bell Helicopter Textron is offering its V-280 Valor third-generation tiltrotor for the U.S. Army’s joint multi-role technology demonstration. (Image: Bell Helicopter)

The U.S. Army’s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate selected Bell Helicopter Textron, a Boeing-Sikorsky team and AVX Aircraft among contractors invited to participate in the joint multi-role technology demonstrator (JMR-TD) program with new rotorcraft designs, the companies confirmed. They expect the Army will award JMR-TD contracts by September. The first demonstrator flights are planned in 2017.

The JMR effort is part of the Pentagon’s future vertical lift (FVL) program to develop a series of rotorcraft that would replace the Army’s current aging fleet of utility and attack helicopters by 2030. The Army has said that JMR-TD phase 1 will address the technical risk of developing an FVL medium-class, vertical takeoff and landing air vehicle that “greatly surpasses” the performance, reliability and affordability of current helicopters. The service has identified a cruise speed of 230 knots, nearly twice the speed of current helicopters, “as a key discriminating capability,” according to Bell Helicopter.

Bell will advance its V-280 Valor third-generation tiltrotor design, unveiled in April at the Army Aviation Association of America convention in Fort Worth. “The Bell V-280 Valor will provide the Army’s most sought-after capability, with a cruise speed of 280 knots,” said Keith Flail, Bell’s FVL program director.

Earlier this year, Boeing and Sikorsky announced a teaming agreement to participate in the program. The companies said they are “pleased to have been invited by the U.S. Army to negotiate a technology investment agreement” for the JMR-TD phase 1 effort. “Our team brings a shared commitment to invest in next-generation rotorcraft technology based on Sikorsky’s X2 rigid-rotor coaxial design.”

AVX also confirmed that it has been selected by the Army to participate; the company is developing a helicopter configuration with coaxial main rotors and dual ducted fans in place of a tail rotor.

Meanwhile, EADS North America and its American Eurocopter subsidiary engaged in a public campaign to restore funding in the U.S. defense budget for the Army’s UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter, a military version of the Eurocopter EC145. Plans called for the Army to order 41 Lakotas over the next two fiscal years. But the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget submission to Congress reduces that number to 10 helicopters next year and none the following year, effectively ending production. The Army’s initial requirement was for 345 UH-72As. American Eurocopter said it has delivered 267.

The cuts threaten some 300 jobs at American Eurocopter’s Columbus, Miss. facility, where the Lakota is produced for the Army and Army National Guard, and another 100 jobs at the company’s headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas. Politicians, company officials and employees staged a rally in Columbus on May 30 to urge Congress to restore funding for the helicopter; a similar event is planned in Grand Prairie.

AVX Aircraft Co. of Fort Worth provided this illustration of its proposal for the U.S. Army’s Joint Multi-Role technology demonstration. The coaxial rotor aircraft is proposed in both attack and utility variants. (Courtesy AVX Aircraft)

“I firmly believe the proposal to decrease funding of the Lakota helicopter program was made in haste,” said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. “During a time when our country is in dire financial crisis, I understand cuts must be made to alleviate some of the strain on the national debt. However, it is counterproductive for the Department of Defense to cancel this cost-effective, successful program, as every helicopter produced here has been delivered on time and on budget.”