Boeing and Sikorsky jointly developed the Army's RAH-66 Comanche armed scout helicopter to replace the OH-58D. Although the program was canceled in 2004, “we built a very strong team with respect for each other,” says Leanne Caret, Boeing vice president and general manager for vertical lift. “We are starting with that history in mind.”
Speed was the determining factor in selecting the X2 configuration, with its rigid coaxial rotors and pusher propeller. But hover efficiency, combat radius and hot-and-high performance were factors in the configuration's favor, Mehta says. A cruise speed of 230 kt. is a 100-kt. improvement over the UH-60M, he says, while “hover efficiency is significantly higher; there is a 60% improvement in combat radius and 50% better hot/high performance.”
Minimizing drag and weight are key areas of effort for the JMR demonstrator. “We are also focusing on the dimensions of the aircraft, as this is a joint program,” he says. The FVL Medium could replace the U.S. Navy's MH-60 shipborne helicopter, and a coaxial-rotor configuration is more compact.
The air vehicles will be built under Phase 1 of the JMR technology demonstration, while Phase 2—running two years later—will demonstrate mission systems. Sikorsky is the lead for the Phase 1 bid and Boeing is the prime for Phase 2, Mehta says. But the companies are working jointly on all aspects of design. “Sikorsky is leading the dynamic system, but there are Boeing engineers on the team. Boeing is lead on the airframe, but there are Sikorsky folks on the team,” he says.
Boeing's decision to team with Sikorsky in perpetuity for JMR and FVL leaves Bell looking for new partners with which to offer a third-generation tiltrotor for JMR and FVL. Speaking on the eve of last month's Heli-Expo show in Las Vegas, CEO John Garrison said that, while its relationship with Boeing on the V-22 Osprey remains strong, Bell is now looking for new partners to help develop tiltrotors and provide both technology and investment.
“We are trying to determine right now who the best team is going forward and obviously they will bring not just engineering and technical capability, they will have to bring financial capability as well,” he said. “Bell was once the main supplier of helicopters to the U.S. Army, and we would like to regain that mission, but we face formidable competitors,” Garrison said.
Boeing and Sikorsky would seem to be the team to beat, as between them they have produced 80% of the Army's helicopter fleet, including the UH-60s and AH-64s intended to be replaced by the FVL Medium. But Mehta, for one, expects strong competition from EADS. While the company is not divulging its chosen configuration, the Army's speed requirement could be met by an aircraft similar to Eurocopter's X3 high-speed compound helicopter demonstrator, which has reached 232 kt. in flight tests in Europe.
Although the Army has specified a 230-kt. cruise for the JMR demonstrators, that does not mean the FVL Medium has to be a high-speed helicopter. Instead, having invested previously in conventional-helicopter technology development, AATD wants to balance its R&D portfolio and level the playing field for an Army decision, late this decade or early next, on whether the FVL Medium will be an advanced conventional or compound helicopter or a tiltrotor. So far, Army leadership is saying increased speed is important.
The key JMR bidders also are awaiting the decision on the AAS, and not just because of its potential impact on the FVL. Aviation-branch officials briefed Army and Pentagon leadership on the AAS early this year, recommending a new acquisition program rather than extending the service life of the Kiowa Warrior. But Army leaders requested more information on AAS capabilities before making a decision, and now the program's future is caught up in the fiscal uncertainty caused by sequestration and lower budgets going forward.