Army Seeks Designs for Next-Gen Helicopters

sikorsky_demonstrator

The U.S. Army has produced a video to attract bidders and urge them to push the technology envelope in developing next-generation helicopter and tilt-rotor fleets for all the services under the Defense Department’s long-term Future Vertical Lift plan.

“I need aviation visionaries,” Bill Lewis, director of the Army’s Aviation Development Directorate, said in his commentary for the 7-minute video, produced by graphic designers at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. “The only limiting factor is your imagination.”

In response to the video, Hurst, Texas-based Bell Helicopter, part of Providence, R.I.-based Textron Inc., has come up with its own video featuring jut-jawed actors who quickly kick doors and “take care of business” with the help of the V-280 Valor, Bells’ tilt-rotor design for a joint, multi-role aircraft.

The Bell production promoting the Valor begins with two kids ditching their schoolbags to watch the video. “Sweet. Future Vertical Lift,” one kid says. “I can’t wait to fly that bad boy.”

In both the Army video and the Bell production, the theme appeared to be the transformative power of technology to shape future wars into mouse-click games in which the good guys never die, much less bleed.

Bell Helicopter, AVX Aircraft Co. and a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. have submitted designs to the Army for what is being called the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator for an attack and utility aerial platform that was expected to be the forerunner for a wide range of future rotorcraft.

The Army plans to make initial decisions on the demonstrator in September, with a flying prototype to be ready in 2017.

Sikorsky, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., has teamed with Boeing to develop a concept aircraft that would have counter-rotating main rotors and a pusher propeller to give it a cruise speed of more than 260 miles per hour.

“By leveraging our proven design, we can offer the Army reduced risk, a 100-knot (116mph) improvement in speed, a 60 percent improvement in combat radius, and 50 percent better high-hot hover performance,” than other medium-lift helicopters, Samir Mehta, president of Sikorsky Military Systems, said in a statement.

Sikorsky, maker of the Black Hawk utility helicopter, and Boeing, which builds Apache attack choppers, last partnered to build the RAH-66 Commanche light attack helicopter, which was cancelled by the Army in 2004.

Founded in 2005, AVX Aircraft, based in Benbrook, Texas, bills itself as a “rapidly growing aerospace company” that has come up with a radical design featuring coaxial rotors and dual-ducted fans mounted on the sides. AVX claims that the design will give the aircraft greater aerodynamic efficiency and better speed, range and fuel economy than conventional helicopters.

The Bell V-280 Valor “will provide the Army’s most sought-after capability with a cruise speed of 280 knots (322mph),” Keith Flail, director of Bell Helicopter’s Future Vertical Lift program, said in a company press release.

The V-280 Valor builds upon Bell’s long experience with the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for the Marines, which overcame a rash of development accidents and political opposition to perform ably in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the main differences between the Osprey and the Valor design is in the operation of the tilt rotors. In the Osprey, the engines and the rotors tilt, but in the Valor the engines are stationary.

The proposals from Bell, AVX and Boeing-Sikorsky for the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demostrator were the first major steps in the Pentagon’s overall plan announced in 2011 to have the Army take the lead in coming up with prototypes to replace the more than 4,000 aging helicopters in all the services.

In laying out the road map for the House Armed Services Committee, Maj. Gen. William Crosby, the Army’s program executive officer for aviation, last year acknowledged the budget constraints well before Congress imposed additional cost-cutting under the process called sequester.

“The next-generation aircraft will have to be a whole lot less expensive to operate than the current fleet,” Crosby testified, and be ready to come onto line in the 2020s.

However, “even with all of the great work we are doing upgrading and supporting the current fleet, now is the time to invest in the S&T (science and technology) required to develop the future fleet,” Crosby said.

“We are still flying third-generation vertical lift platforms designed during the Vietnam War-era, nearly 50 years ago,” he said. “Our current fleet will not last forever and there are bounds to our ability to upgrade current designs to meet future needs.”

The Army said that automatic budget cuts should not be a factor in the initial agreements with the manufacturers for design proposals.

“Budget constraints and turmoil continue to be a challenge but are not currently projected to alter the agreement awards,” Mervin Brokke, a civilian spokesman for the Army’s Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, said in an e-mailed statement.

Brokke would not comment on how much Bell, Boeing-Sikorsky and AVX were getting up front for their work on the demonstrator, although AVX has stated on its website that it received $4 million.

“Upon successful completion of negotiations and making of appropriate notifications, the Army will publicly announce the recipients selected for funding,” Brokke said.

Military analysts noted that the Army has dropped its long-time resistance to tilt-rotor technology in pushing the Future Vertical Lift program.

“The Army backed out of the Osprey program very early in its history,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute and a Pentagon consultant. In the 1980s, “the Army figured that the Osprey was not quite wide enough for a Humvee. They decided to stick with conventional rotorcraft,” he said, “and that’s proven to be a big mistake.”

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.
  • Lance

    Not really BIG this is not a RFP just a design study.

    • hibeam

      How about a drone that makes a whup whup whup sound like a helicopter? Affordable and ten times more affective.

  • Ben

    I really wish they would have put just a little more money into those CGI effects. It felt like I was back in 2000 for a few minutes.

    That aside, this is exciting stuff. Can’t wait to see what materializes from all of it.

  • SJE

    I support this, but also hope that they are modernizing and replacing the current fleet. Too many of them are in rough shape after a decade in the desert.

  • blight_

    Could be worse. It could be

    “We intend to leapfrog the SLEP paradigm with DISRUPTIVE VTOL platforms”

    Like chum in shark-infested waters…

  • Jayson

    Maybe extend and expand the existing osprey since it has all the rest of the capabilities the Army is looking for.

  • majr0d

    A LOT of EYE CANDY!

  • Tad

    I know this is probably a silly, or obvious, question, but what needed capabilities would such aircraft address that current aircraft do not possess?

  • hibeam

    Why do we need attack helicopters? We have the IRS.

  • Musson

    Ah. You might want to consider COST an additional limiting factor if we actually want an aircraft that can be put into production.

    • hibeam

      We have to build it. To see what’s in it. Try to keep up.

  • hibeam

    Nice video but it seems to imply that our troops would be allowed to fire back in an area where a civilians stray dog might be harmed. That won’t happen for another 3.5 years.

  • Mitch S.

    There’s a quote:

    “The Army backed out of the Osprey program very early in its history,” said Loren Thompson… They decided to stick with conventional rotorcraft,” he said, “and that’s proven to be a big mistake.”

    So if The Army called Bell and said they were interested in 500 Ospreys Bell would tell ’em “Sorry, you’re too late”? Yeah, right…

    • blight_

      Once the Osprey was too small for the Humvee, or perhaps even a M-151 Jeep it was over.

      Though maybe a Gator…

    • tiger

      They don’t roll of a line like Honda Civics. Production numbers like that would take years to meet.

      • Mitch S.

        Even if the Army signed on 20 years ago they still would not have had a significant quantity for Iraq and Afghanistan.
        Now that the machine is in service and the major bugs have been worked out, production could be ramped up in much less time than it took to develop the thing.
        And i’d be willing to bet if the Army wanted a modified version for their requirements it could still be done for less money and in far less time than the original program.

        There is often an advantage to being second to the technology party.
        And I think the Army would have done well with their helos supplemented by a short-field cargo plane. The way the Air Force killed the JCA is scandalous.

    • blight_

      If the Army signed on it would be Army bickering with Marines about “what we want” for the Osprey, plus Navy and Air Force.

      We now know that the PITA of the aircraft increases with the square of the number of services involved in its development.

      e.g,
      one service-> (1)^2=1
      two services-> (2)^2=4x (Superbug, Navy/MC)
      three services-> (3)^2=9x (JSF, Navy/AF/USMC)
      four services-> (4)^2=16x (?)

      Of course, this is also true of development with foreign powers. Thus the MBT-70 is 4x the pain of the Abrams or Leopard separately.

    • blight_

      What would stop the army from going back to bell and insisting on a bigger Osprey to carry more stuff?

      Vertol had two tandem rotor prototypes, one big, one small. Marines got the small one since it was easier to keep aboard amphibs-the CH-46. Army wanted the larger one, the CH-47. Would it be ridiculously expensive to scale up the Osprey?

  • Stan

    I am sure he meant to say the only limit is our being broke.

    • hibeam

      How can we be broke? We are giving away free stuff faster than ever before. Surely we must be getting richer?

  • hibeam

    I like the way the tiny unmanned helicopter calls in the huge manned helicopter to fly in and engage the enemy. They got it exactly backwards.

  • John Mayeski

    The video was pretty interesting, but I had to chuckle at the use of bare bone M4s in 2050. And how the heck did that hovering medical pod thing get into the chopper…anti-gravity…lol? I would have preffered some windows on that twin rotor/jet concept. Sensors can fail, and then your screwed.

    • hibeam

      Windows can fail. And then your knocked senseless. Forgive me if I don’t reply to all six of your identical posts.

  • John Mayeski
  • And which war is this for? The one against tribesmen with AK47s, 60yr old RPG designs and bags of fertilizer?

  • Hint from previous flying dead-ends : More rotors = more to go wrong and huge increases in maintenance costs.

    Heavy lift helicopter solution that looks EXACTLY like existing helicopter designs with improved 2010s engine tech would be far cheaper, better, more versatile and fit right in with existing requirements.

    Why go for jet-packs, magic flying pods and levitating gizmos… the alternatives alreay work and we know how to use them.

    Hint usa. You might even get foreign sales from modern heavy lift helicopters! You know… to pay your debts and fund your future?!?!?

    Leave the Jetsons and Hollywood Wow-factor overspends alone until you have a secure future!

  • USS ENTERPRISE

    Can we have the Comanche back? Or is that, forever shelved?

  • PolicyWonk

    This video has been around for months.

    Given that the Army can’t get it together to determine if K-Max will fit their bill (seriously – it resupply of Army ground troops so different from resupply of Marines?), plus current state of affairs w/r/t acquisition, I seriously hope this doesn’t go the same way as FCS, amongst many other programs.

  • stephen russell

    why not use NOTAR in mix & save weight alone.
    Merge TV show Airwolf copter with AH64 Apache,Awesome.

  • James

    Funny. The gang at AED are better known for slowing the process down, than for expediting innovative approaches. Probably for the best that they are looking at a long lead time taking them to 2050.

  • Jeff

    My invention is a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that intends to make conventional airplanes and helicopters obsolete. All other concepts have failed. The invention remains undisclosed because I cannot pursue it on my own. No agency, including Army, wants to talk to me because little guys are not eligible for corporate welfare. Nobody cares.

    • Mastro

      True- we really don’t.

      “The invention remains undisclosed because I cannot pursue it on my own”

      Like your water engine and cold fusion reactor no doubt?

  • Dfens

    What I find humorous is the concept the Army has that just anyone can design a good VTOL aircraft. Just pull a good idea out of your ass and submit it. It’s not like an aircraft is a complex system of systems with each one relying on the other to achieve flight. Hell no, we’ll just offer up a slick new video and someone is bound to come up with the next new VTOL aircraft design. It’s just like putting 10,000 monkeys in a room pounding on typewriters for 10,000 years. One of them is bound to come up with a work of Shakespeare any minute now. I’m sure they’ll get just what they deserve out of this program, just like they always do with your money.

  • “We need… more! MORE! M O R E !”
    Yeah… we need x-ray lasers that shoot out of the eyes of the tigers. BIG F* WHITE TIGERS! Yeah and they’re suspended under the wings of a 12 rotor 223 tonne VTOL nuclear-powered submarine WITH a dish… A BIG dish…. On the roof. No wait! For picking up NASCAR in remote locations…. you know! For kids!”

    “You are sooo right, general! I’m loving it already!”

    “Where’s ma pencil? Oh, this crayon will do!”

    Somewhere over in the Pentagon, a roomful of ‘interlektuals’ snort koke and put their back into some imagineering… outside, a hungry war widow begs for loose change, while holding her thin infant, and wonders why gasoline is $37 a gallon!

    • blight_

      A Mk XXXIV Bolo with Hellrails for anti-Melconian planetary defense is called for, plus planetary siege capability.

    • W_R_Monger

      You must be thinking of Europe… $37/gal

      • No sf3lo es que se agradezcan esos exrtas, sino que ademe1s los que incluyes en tus obras son un aute9ntico valor af1adido por lo riguroso de la documentacif3n que aportas con ellos.Me ha encantado esta pe1gina (como dices, con un estilo muy a lo Osprey) sobre el equipo de armas del caballero!Espero que en estos prf3ximos dedas previos a su salida nos sigas ensef1ando cosas, la portada definitiva y deme1s! Que9 ganas de tenerlo!

    • William_C1

      >implying the guys designing and building new equipment determine foreign policy

  • Bob

    Dumb video with dumb writing and dumb actors

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Hollywood.

  • tiger

    All we were missing from this video was the GI Joe & Cobra guys. We need to develop more blind Ninja’s And armed snowmobiles !

  • tiger

    Oh, screw this. I want Gundams….

  • d. kellogg

    Naw, just gimme those cool fanwing gunships from Avatar.

    Oddly, that sort of tech/design isn’t really all that unrealistic if you look closely at the mechanics of it.
    (I/m probably one of those very few geeks who didn’t watch it for the story of a crippled human banging some blue space cat-chick, but rather for the tech of the “sky people” :-)

    • stupid movie

      Come on. They were shot down by some dragons. Wouldn’t want that.

  • rty

    All of this seemed to be the future of warfare that outlets like Popular Mechanics were promising for today’s armies when I was growing up.

    A heavy dose of reality would help these designers, especially when the cost of all this fancy automation is taken into account.

  • Trinulationtime

    V-22 don´t fullfilled many of initial requeriments. Osprey was made as sustitute of various helicopters. It is not good enought to remplance any of them. it have good features but as a whole system don´t have a place to be.
    If Physics Laws allowed it, a new concept is needed. And we all are thinking in helicopter-airplane hybrids. it´s a death alley. I dont have the solution, of course. The key element (unauthorized opinion) it is a really new, exotic and different main rotor.

  • Mastro

    “The only limiting factor is your imagination.”

    And a shrinking defense budget.

    • d. kellogg

      Maybe there’s the solution:
      we stop havig actual “hardware wars” at all (where no one gets killed or maimed for real, and there’s no collateral damage, and no phenomenally overpriced-yet-underperforming weapon) and just fight it out in Hollywood CGI.
      Best special effects wins.

      Remember men: your imagination is the key to our victory!

      :-P

  • jffourquet

    The Army spend billions for the Commanche and ARH and has nothing to show for it. This will be no different. Lets get back to basics, replace the M4 with a reliable rifle that a soldier can depend on. And take the corrupt contracting officers out of the picture (you know the O5 and 06’s who deep six anything that is not a colt then retire and work for colt).

  • guestly

    So, 100 knots equals 116 mph, but 280 knots equals 322 mph?

  • W_R_Monger

    duPont already tried a thrust vectoring VTOL and it flew a day late and a dollar short…

  • Reid Smith

    Our biggest problem is not the aging of our aircraft fleet or their top speed, it is the ease at which you can shoot them down. Shouldn’t we put more focus on protection against our most common adversary weapons (7.32×39, 7.62x54R and RPG)?
    This CAN be done using ESAPI plates (from our body armor) to cover the aircraft like fish scales and supplemented with transparent armor windshields and RPG nets that we use on our MRAP’s.

  • Reid Smith

    Another focal point for aircraft development should be having the ability to land an all terrain armored vehicle so that once on the ground our forces aren’t limited to foot mobility in pursuing bad guys. A vehicle like a JLTV or MATV type with 4-6 troops would be good, although something with treads would be better. An armored aircraft that could conduct vertical forcible entry and then off load a vehicle or two that can close with and destroy the enemy would be an awesome capability. This would be much better than the Vietnam era technology of highly vulnerable aircraft being able to off load a squad or platoon of dismounted infantry soldiers.

    • d. kellogg

      Good points,
      but reflecting on the fallacies of the failed Army FCS program: what is sufficient mobility and armor to protect troops deployable by air?
      Can we make the sufficiently-protected vehicle light enough to be flown
      where we need it when we need it, yet it will be survivable enough against most threats when it gets deployed there?

      FCS showed that even with latest tech, it couldn’t be done.

      Granted, it would be nice to one day see some kind of assault lander that can deploy a ground combat vehicle.
      Until then, we will only ever have Hollywood giving us Aliens’ Marine dropship deploying an APC and LucasArts’ Republic gunship LAATs dropping six-legged all terrain assault walkers.
      :-P

      • blight_

        Or Skycranes moving very light vehicles around…if we still had them, they could probably carry a Wiesel around.

    • blight_

      I would be happy to see the return of the ACH-47. Designing an “all terrain armored vehicle” is a challenge in futility, especially if you want it helicopter transportable.

      • d. kellogg

        In all serious, the German Army has proven its Weisels could be flown in its Stallion helicopters (the earlier two-engined Stallions, not the bigger 3-engined Super Stallions the USMC uses).

        But Weisel isn’t a light tank: they classify it as a weapons carrier, with minimal armor.

        • blight_

          Something lighter than the M113 (M114?); but any light vehicle will suffer against man-portable anti-tank weapons and become an expensive liability that doesn’t contribute to the fight. More likely than not, vehicles will be used to transport people to fighting distance, and they’ll have to cover the last hundred meters dismounted.

    • blight_

      Too much Halo. A Pelican dropping a warthog is going to get slammed by Iglas or a 14.5mm HMG on a truck.

      • d. kellogg

        That’s the limitation of any large VTOL aircraft (helo, tiltrotor, or whatever): it’s most vulnerable to even small arms fire when it’s in its landing and take off transitional flight envelopes.

        Most will also be big, lumbering, ungainly and mostly minimally maneuvering targets as they fly laden with cargoes in and out of combat environments.

        There’s video out there of Hind gunships, their Mi8/Mi-17 brethren, even an Mi-26 or two being engaged with MANPADS.
        Most VTOL types can be carved up by even 5.45 (Russians make tungsten cored AP) and 5.56mm automatic weapons quite effectively, as their skin is little more than thin material for aerodynamic purposes and protection from the elements. Underneatn, few components are structurally capable of handling small arms damage, especially electronicsand electrical lines so prevalent in today’s aircrat.

        • tiger

          It beats flying troops in Waco & Horsa Gliders. Now that must have been real fun?

  • A.J. CARIAGA

    MORE SUPER SPECIALIZED A/C ARE NEEDED NOT GENERAL DESIGNS

  • Thomas L. Nielsen

    “Read my message. I have the solution….”

    So you keep saying. Considering the track record of “garage shop VTOL projects”, I am still waiting to be convinced.

    Regards & all,

    Thomas L. Nielsen
    Luxembourg

  • I have a great future design and I would like to talk to the head of this operation in person call me at 7656313674

    • d. kellogg

      That’s not the way it works.
      You have to watch the DoD-issued RFIs and other program announcements, and submit your bid to their requirements.
      Or actually build (and patent) working prototypes to prove you aren’t just some nutcase.
      Hey, it worked for those Howe & Howe Tech guys who offered that Switchblade or whatever fast tracked vehicle concept.
      Even them Red Jacket Firearms folks had their days in the procurement spotlight.

  • Phillip Leech

    Do we have the Osprey already? And shouldn’t they fix that first, before they go spending money on another one just like it?

    • tmb2

      The Army doesn’t use the Osprey.

    • tiger

      What rock have you been under?

  • ereilad

    Seems to me anything that pushes the technology envelope could first be tested in an unmanned version. Make sure it is worth the trouble before committing the country to a big development project with the inevitable cost overruns. Both versions if successful could have their jobs to do in the modern battlefield.

  • ajerusalem

    The army needs to pick its battles when it comes to what it is going to build new and what it isn’t, and this starts with the Osprey and the Sikorsky X2. Both are more proven than these hypothetical platforms, and between the two of them they would fill all the roles of the Apache and Blackhawk, but in a way that was divided up differently.

    I think a slightly modified version of the Osprey could serve as a very capable Utility/Attack aircraft. There is already provision for a .50 gatling machine gun – this should be redesigned so that it feeds its ammo through the floor instead of from an external box, so that its ammo can be replenished in flight. Hardpoints would need to be created on top of the large side sponsons (with proper rotor clearance) and under the belly of the aircraft (with proper ground clearance). This would allow modular fitting of gun and rocket pods and missiles. Specifically, I could see a bushmaster 30mm cannon mounted in a fixed forward position, with ammo feeding inside the aircraft through a door designed for such purpose – this would allow for higher ammo capacity. 1 or 2 of these plus pods of APKWS rockets would be a good start. Finally, the osprey could easily incorporate the ramp launched AGM 176 Griffin missile out of its rear door. Such an aircraft would function in a similar role as the Hind gunship when fitted with armament, filling the higher altitude overwatch role of the apache with greater speed and climb ability. The modularity of it all would allow ospreys to reconfigure to more conventional cargo mode depending on need – similar to the Marine KC-130/Harvest Hawk.

    If this option were pursued, the X2 could then be developed to fill the capability gaps that the Osprey would have. Where the osprey would do heavier assault and cargo operations, the X2 would do the lower capacity utility, command, and medevac jobs, as well as fill the lower altitude attack role shared by the Kiowa and Apache, with a minigun or 20mm cannon and hardpoints for rockets and missiles.

    • Mastro

      “There is already provision for a .50 gatling machine gun – this should be redesigned so that it feeds its ammo through the floor instead of from an external box, so that its ammo can be replenished in flight”

      Why bother? They took the mingun out due to weight issues. More ammo would just weigh more.

      • ajerusalem

        This is an idea for the conversion of the Osprey into an updated utility attack aircraft. you want more than one box of .50 call hanging under the belly for extended support.

  • R. B. Harp

    Has anyone looked at the Carter Copter???? Seems this would be the logical and most economic way to go. Check itout at : http://www.carteraviationtechnologies.com

  • strumpanzer

    Here is the design they need to bring back. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_AH-56_Chey

  • Miron

    Why do they keep dwelling on propeller based vessels?

    Jet turbine, possibly atomic based. Replaceable panels, modular sections, built mostly of composites, that can be regenerated to mint condition in the field.

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