So Europe would like the US to join it in developing a new heavylift helicopter? And not for the first time. The hope of US involvement has been there since the French and Germans issued their request for information for the so-called Heavy Transport helicopter (HTH) in 2006. Eurocopter went as far as submitting a bid in 2006 to supply the composite fuselage and tailrotor for the Sikorsky CH-53K in the hope of persuading the US firm to provide the dynamic system for the HTH. It came to naught.
HTH. Artwork: Eurocopter
As Nick Fiorenza reveals in his earlier post, the HTH has resurfaced, now called the Future Transport helicopter (FTH, I presume). France and Germany are expected to bring the program to the European Defence Agency (EDA) in a bid to get more nations involved, initially in technology research, but eventually in development and procurement.
"For the long term, beyond 2020, the Future Transport Helicopter offers an excellent opportunity for wider participation in Europe. I hope this project comes to EDA soon," said agency head Javier Solana at EDA's Mar.10 conference on helicopters in Brussels. "It also offers potential for transatlantic cooperation. The market for such an expensive helicopter is simply too small in Europe alone."
CH-53K. Artwork: Sikorsky
Why would the US want to get involved, when it is already developing the CH-53K, and why doesn't Europe just buy the Sikorsky heavylifter? Back in 2006, presenting its proposal for a new-design HTH, Eurocopter argued the CH-53K, as well as any upgraded CH-47, would not meet the cabin size requirements, while Russia's Mi-26 would meet the size and payload specs, but not the certification, availability and operating cost requirements.
Back then, the HTH requirement was to carry a 10-13 tonne payload over a 500km unrefueled radius. The CH-53K is being designed to lift 12.2 tonnes over a 204km radius. But the big difference is size - France and Germany wanted to transport armored vehicles like the Dingo and Fennek inside the cabin, requiring a much larger fuselage. This made the HTH bigger and heavier than even the CH-53K.
Although the FTH is closer to Eurocopter's experience base than the A400M is to Airbus' history as an airliner builder, the mess Europe is making of developing the military airlifter has to bring into question its ability to design and build a heavylift helicopter. Development of the smaller NH90 tactical and naval helicopter took Eurocopter and its partners much longer than planned, and makes even a 2020 in-service date for FTH look ambitious.
At the same time the Future Transport Helicopter requirements, if they remain the same as for the original HTH, fall far short of 28-ton payload, 250nm-radius and A400M-size fuselage envisioned for the Joint Future Theater Lift (JFTL) aircraft now being discussed by the US Army and Air Force. A slightly heavier heavylift helicopter would not appear to be what the US is looking for.