Companies proposing either tiltrotor or compound helicopter designs have won contracts from the U.S. Army for its joint multi-role technology demonstration (JMR TD) Phase 1 program to develop a next-generation vertical-lift aircraft.
On October 2, the Army’s Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (Amrdec) at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., announced the award of four technology investment agreements, each for $6.5 million, to Sikorsky Aircraft, Bell Helicopter, AVX Aircraft and previously unannounced contender Karem Aircraft. “Cost share from each vendor varies based on individual priorities and schedules,” according to the Amrdec. Nine total proposals were submitted in response to a broad agency announcement for JMR TD Phase 1.
The JMR effort is part of the U.S. Department of Defense Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative to develop a series of advanced rotorcraft that would replace the current helicopter fleet by 2030. JMR TD Phase 1 addresses the technical risk of developing an FVL medium-class air vehicle; a second phase will address mission systems. The Army is investing $217 million in the first-phase effort.
Bell Helicopter will advance its V-280 Valor third-generation tiltrotor design, unveiled in April at the Army Aviation Association of America convention in Fort Worth. Also expected to advance a tiltrotor design is Karem Aircraft, of Lake Forest, Calif., which had not publicly declared its interest in the JMR program. The aircraft rapid development company was founded by Abe Karem, who among other projects led the design of the Gnat 750 unmanned aircraft, from which the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator is derived, and the A160 Hummingbird unmanned helicopter, now in Boeing’s stable. Karem Aircraft and Lockheed Martin signed a teaming agreement in 2008 to jointly develop Karem’s optimum-speed tilt-rotor concept for the former Army-led Joint Heavy Lift program.
Earlier this year, Sikorsky announced a teaming agreement with Boeing to submit a joint proposal for JMR TD Phase 1 program. [Sikorsky and Boeing will unveil the name of their proposed medium-lift demonstrator aircraft, a compound helicopter with coaxial main rotors, at the Association of the U.S. Army conference on October 21. —BC] AVX, based in Benbrook, Texas, is also proposing a compound helicopter design featuring coaxial main rotors and dual ducted fans in place of a tail rotor.
The four contenders have nine months to refine their initial designs and to potentially build and flight-test a demonstrator aircraft in 2017, the Amrdec said. The design efforts will include a “paper/conceptual design of an objective vehicle that meets a model performance specification indicative of the type of solution and capabilities anticipated as requirements for an FVL program of record.” The conceptual designs “will use advanced technologies and enhanced lifecycle management concepts to indicate satisfying that specification. The flying demonstrators will be built only to a level required to demonstrate those critical enabling technologies.” Based on the available funding, the Army will likely select two of the designs late next year to advance to fabrication and flight-test.
JMR TD Phase 1 continues through Fiscal Year 2019 to complete all flight-testing and data collection.