The future of the German heavy-lift helo is likely to be a subject of much discussion at this week's ILA Berlin Air Show.
EADS is displaying its joint concept with Boeing, including diagrams of a proposed tandem-rotor design and a full-scale cross section of the proposed cabin for the aircraft, which looks much like an enlarged CH-47 Chinook, built by Boeing. It is likely that Boeing’s contribution to this design would be providing the tandem-rotor technology and dynamics of the aircraft.
The two companies have been cooperating to explore business for years, but the cabin display appears to be new for ILA. “Eurocopter has been working with Boeing in recent years to explore airframe design and technologies for the Future Transport Helicopter requirement in Europe,” according to a Boeing statement issued in response to a query about the Eurocopter design displayed at the show. “Together, the companies have met with representatives of several countries to determine whether the market can sustain a large-scale aircraft development program based on a tandem-rotor design.”
The global financial downturn is dampening the ambitions of defense ministries around the world, and could impinge on Berlin’s hopes for a large helicopter capable of carrying its artillery around the battlefield internally. A backup plan for the country could be to consider off-the-shelf options that would reduce the cost of development.
Though Sikorsky has preliminary designs for a larger helicopter, company officials are expecting to showcase the CH-53K here this week. The massive helicopter’s customer, the U.S. Marine Corps, will be in attendance and brief local press on the CH-53K’s attributes and status.
Sikorsky is now manufacturing the first ground-test vehicle, and U.S. Marine Corps Col. Robert Pridgen, CH-53K program manager, said earlier this year that the major risk areas of the program are largely retired. The main hurdle was thought to be in crafting the split-torque gearbox for the helicopter, which is designed to maintain the CH-53’s footprint while doubling useful load.
If Germany’s ambitions for a large, next-generation helicopter begin to recede, Sikorsky is likely to pitch the existing CH-53K design and Boeing would likely fall back on its CH-47F model design, with both company’s considering options for industrial cooperation in Germany for manufacturing.