U.S. Army Set To Announce Demo Contracts For Radical New Rotorcraft
Contract negotiations between the U.S. Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate and AVX Helicopter, Bell Helicopter and the Sikorsky/Boeing team–the potential Phase I vendors for the joint multi-role technology demonstrator (JMR-TD)–are nearing completion. Announcement of the awards for a new U.S. Army medium helicopter are planned for September, according to an Army spokesman. However, “like many other efforts, this schedule is challenged by furlough effects,” he said.
JMR is the precursor of the future vertical lift program, which has the goal of developing a series of helicopters with “leap-ahead technology” in four sizes: light scout to replace the Bell OH-58 Kiowa; medium utility and attack to replace the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and Boeing AH-64 Apache; heavy cargo to replace the Boeing CH-47 Chinook; and ultra (large) with performance similar to that of the C-130J Super Hercules. The initial focus is on the medium configuration, which represents the Army’s greatest need–some 4,000 aircraft.
The differences in the approaches of the three potential JMR-TD participants are significant. Because of this, “each will have a slightly different schedule,” the Army spokesman said. “However, the overarching program plan is to conduct first flights…in late Fiscal Year 2017.”
Sikorsky Aircraft is well into the design of its self-funded S-97 Raider, which is based on the company’s coaxial-rotor X2 technology demonstrator. Retired in July 2011 after logging 22 flight hours, the 11,000-pound X2 had reached 253 knots in level flight and 262 knots in a dive in 2010. Sikorsky, which has teamed with Boeing Helicopter in Philadelphia on JMR, has already begun development of the S-97 and expects to fly two prototypes by the end of next year.
However, the Raider is meant to be a light tactical helicopter, not the medium (20,000- to 30,000-pound) transport/attack helicopter defined by JMR Phase 1, so obviously the S-97/X2 would need to be scaled up to meet the requirements of the program. “The Army wants a generational leap in technology,” said a Sikorsky spokesman. “Sikorsky believes that the X2 does what the Army wants.”
Bell Helicopter Textron proposes a new tiltrotor capitalizing on the company’s 55 years of experience in tiltrotor development (starting with the XV-3 in 1955) and the proven scalability of the concept, from the diminutive Eagle Eye UAV to the V-22 Osprey. Its V-280 Valor uses elements of the Bell 525 now under development, including fuselage components, fly-by-wire flight controls and vehicle management system, combined with a tiltrotor. The V-280 will have the same footprint as the Black Hawk.
According to Keith Flail, program director of Bell’s Future Vertical Lift Military Programs, a key difference between the V-22 and the V-280 will be the latter’s non-rotating engines, which eliminate a rotating gearbox; diffuse the exhaust heat and gases more efficiently; provide more space for rapid egress from the aircraft; and give a clear field of fire for defense. The aircraft is expected to cruise at 280 knots and have a radius of action of 250 nm. Quoting from an Army operational effectiveness report, Flail said, “The tiltrotor is the most effective aircraft.” He added, “Our understanding is that the JMR aircraft don’t have to be the same technology in all the classes, but would instead be a ‘family of systems.’”
AVX Aircraft of Benbrook, Texas, is a design and engineering company made up primarily of former Bell Helicopter engineers. David Brody, chairman and CEO, founded the company in 2005 with the goal of “bringing advanced vertical takeoff and landing aircraft to the mass market.” Brody recruited Troy Gaffey, former Bell chief engineer and vice president of research, to be AVX’s president and chief engineer. AVX has no manufacturing facilities, so it is busy lining up industry partners. The company went public last year, funded primarily by a small number of entrepreneurs.
For the Army’s former Armed Aerial Scout program, the company submitted a conversion of the Bell OH-58 that gave it two coaxial four-blade main rotors and two ducted fans mounted in place of the tailboom and rotor and driven by the main gearbox. “The Army gave the design to its tech folks and they said it will work,” an AVX spokesman said. The company’s proposed design for the JMR-TD also has coaxial rotors and dual ducted fans on the tail. AVX claims the aircraft “is designed for future battlefield and conditions and will out-perform all existing rotorcraft options available today–at the lowest cost.”
At the Paris Air Show in June, Sean O’Keefe, chief executive of EADS North America, said Eurocopter decided not to continue pursuing the JMR-TD program because the Army wants the participants to bear most of the cost of developing the technology.