Army May Pick Future Helo Designs This Summer


NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Helicopter-makers say they’re eagerly awaiting a decision expected this summer from the U.S. Army to move forward with development of a futuristic rotorcraft.

The program, known officially as the Joint Multi-Role helicopter, or JMR, has attracted defense giants such as United Technologies Corp.’s Sikorsky unit, Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter, as well as the small, closely held firms AVX Aircraft Co. and Karem Aircraft Inc.

Despite automatic budget cuts, the service is trying to protect research and development funding to design next-generation helicopters that fly twice as far as today’s models and with better fuel efficiency, according to Heidi Shyu, the Army’s top acquisition official.

The Army is conducting a “significant amount” of analysis of vertical lift technology in preparation of “upcoming material development decisions,” she said during a presentation on Monday at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual conference, known as Quad A.

“I would encourage all of you guys to go down and see the displays of all four competitors,” she said. “I mean, it’s really an outstanding job that each and every one of them are doing right now.”

The service may make a decision this summer to select two of the companies to continue developing designs, though no date has been set, according to Bell Chief Executive Officer John Garrison.

The firms will submit their proposals in June, the Army will make a decision in July, and the work will eventually lead to a potentially $100 billion Future Vertical Lift program to replace Black Hawks and Apaches, according to an article by Paul McLeary of Defense News.

Bell and Boeing developed the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, which can take off and land like a helicopter and fly like a plane. Now, they’ve split into separate teams, with Bell pitching a new, tilt-rotor concept called the Bell V-280 Valor and Boeing teaming with Sikorsky in offering a co-axial design called the SB>1 Defiant.

With its speed, range and payload capacity, “it provides operational agility and transformational reach that the armed forces, specifically the Army, do not have today,” Garrison said during a briefing with reporters. A prototype could fly as early as 2017, he said.

Bell’s life-sized model of the Valor attracted a steady crowd on the conference’s showroom floor. The aircraft is designed to cruise at speeds of at least 280 knots — hence its name — with a range of 2,100 nautical miles.

Unlike the Osprey, its engines remain in place and only the propellers tilt upward when transitioning, or rotating, from helicopter to airplane mode. The engineering change will drastically reduce wear and tear on the hydraulic lines and other components.

“It’s a simpler design,” Garrison said. “We have better and more modern tools today.”

The company also displayed a large touch screen running an interactive software program demonstrating the aircraft’s features, such as seats that wirelessly charge troops’ radios, night-vision goggles and other electronic gear; windows that display three-dimensional mission maps; and the upgraded wings and engines designed to stabilize flight while maximizing speed.

“It’s going to be a sports car — the way it’s going to fly,” said Keith Flail, Bell’s director of future vertical lift military programs.

Sikorsky also displayed a mock-up of another vertical-lift aircraft, the S-97 Raider, and miniature models of other experimental aircraft, including the Defiant, all of which are based on a coaxial design. Sikorsky made headlines on Monday not in Tennessee but in Florida, where it unveiled its new CH-53K chopper. The company expects to test fly the S-97 late this year.


Karem Aircraft Inc., founded by Abraham Karem, who designed the early MQ-1 Predator drone and A-160 Hummingbird unmanned helicopter, is developing a larger, “optimum speed” tilt-rotor capable of carrying an M2 Bradley or Stryker armored infantry vehicle.



Despite being the smallest player in the program, AVX, which is headed by engineers who worked on the V-22 program, was confident about its entry. Nicknamed War Horse by at least one company executive, the design features lighter rotors, a pair of rear pusher fans, minimal amounts of fasteners and other innovations.


“We don’t bring with us either a legacy or burden of overhead and other attributes that some of the big guys do,” said Scott Pomeroy, vice chairman of the company. “We also applaud the Army in recognizing that innovation is not the birthright of large multinational corporations.”

Troy Gaffey, chairman, president and chief engineer of AVX, said the Army may not decide to simply pick two of the four designs. It could pursue several options, including awarding funding for additional evaluations such as a wind-tunnel test that doesn’t require flight, he said.

“I suspect AVX will still be involved in one way or the other because of the technology that we’re bringing to the party,” he said. “We have a lot of technology in our aircraft that is, shall we say, new and different.”

(Story was updated to correct the name of the Sikorsky-Boeing design in the eighth paragraph.)

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • DB-1

    What if? a defense contractor could actually build anything on time, on budget and as advertiesed that would be something.

  • Except this is more pipe dreams the Army has NO repeat NO money right now for this. More dreaming by Brandon.

  • sefad

    i would really appreciate a picture of all the designs thank you.

  • Check the rotorcrafts in the trailer of Edge of Tomorrow.

  • scott

    maybe time to bring back the RAH66 commanche design that rummy scrapped

  • Dfens

    Hell, bring back the Cheyenne. That’s where most of these designs started.

  • LoSul

    This article is 100% incorrect on the Sikorsky/Boeing offering. Their JMR design is a much larger craft called SB>1, not the S-97.

    The S-97 is an orphan program designed to a contract that has never existed. It was too large for AAS (which was canceled) and much too small for JMR-Medium.

  • Musson

    As I recall Burt Rutan built some prototypes that achieved the same results with innovative Fixed Wing designs. They were much more stable and MUCH cheaper.

    So, just have Congress grant the Army an exemption to fly Fixed Wing aircraft and save $100 billion.

  • Cataldo

    OT- for defensetech authors
    Next Putin fly to China will reveal the future about SU35S development, i think this is the most important air affaire of the year, not for economic reason, but for the strategic developments If Russia and China came to an agreement on this topic. I hope to see something about on these pages. This aircraft has a lot of new features, and reflect old and new Russian approach in air defence power.

    • blight_

      Russians should understand that any foreign sale is going to get reverse-engineered. Whether by us or the PRC…

  • Nasties

    For a hundred zillion dollars the piece, that’s for sure

  • hibeam

    This summer of recovery?

  • Wallygator

    I’m not sold on the medium being able to replace the Blackhawk and Apache. I can’t see how it would be too big to be a good attack bird or too small to be a useful utility chopper.

  • Dfens

    You’ve gotta love the way they feed the turbulent air from those little winglets directly into the thrust fans in that AVX design. The turbulent air is not going to cause the engines to become unlit, but it will sure shake the hell out of those fan blades. I’m guessing those tiny NACA ducts on the top fairing are supposed to be the turbine intakes. I suppose sizing will come later. Maybe when they get around to that they’ll figure out why no one uses NACA ducts to feed a turbine too (that pesky old turbulence). Then again, since any room full of people can design an aircraft these days, maybe they wont. And “what if” their crack team of designers were smart enough not to design in all the base drag that little flat section over the door in the back will provide? But they have a video with annoying sound effects, so it must be good.

  • Bernard

    All I see are bunch of failed concept drawings using ideas that have been around since the 70’s. The only effective VTOL are helicopters. Maybe someday we will have something else, but none of these things are it. I think we’ll have fusion reactors on aircraft before we have a practical VTOL system using turbine/jet engines.

    • tiger


    • Wolf

      So short viewed theirs many areas that others used that are ignored due to their ignorance of its usefulness even though they had decades of ideas for the amusement of others.

      One example Star Trek and the Bluetooth you use

      People don’t see their usefulness for all the other areas and so their heavy experience in the subjects they already know makes them inadequate to newer concepts

  • How much do you want to bet the Army spend 20billion dollars and then cancels the program?

  • moondawg

    There is NO tilt rotor aircraft in the Army’s future, at least not one capable of mounting any armament whatsoever. Tilt rotors have fixed wings and the AF, by law, will not allow the army to have a fixed wing aircraft that mounts any sort of armament. The AF is very jealous of its monopoly (except for Navy) in armed fixed wing aircraft.

    • tiger

      No different than most every other nation with a Air force.

    • JohnnyRanger

      NOT by law.

  • CTOCS77

    They already have, it is called the Osprey. If it is good enough for the Marines it is good enough for the Army.

  • Bobbie

    Let each contractor build there prototype on there own $ and see if it works as stated! and then compete for the contract.

    • tiger

      Nobody works that way anymore. That is how you join the long list of aviation used to be….. Flown a Curtis, a Convair or a Supermarine lately? The shareholders would have your head.

  • Jeff

    I know it wasn’t a prototype for this effort but Sikorsky built and flew the X-2 which gives some backup to their proposal.

    • LoSul

      A 7,000 pound gross weight air vehicle does almost nothing to prove the viabiity of the ABC rotor system at the 25,000 pound range for FVL medium.

      Theres a lot of evidence that shows the required flapping cannot be achieved at the large rotor radius required (not to mention the vibration) without greatly spacing the rotors apart relative to the ratios achieved on the X2. This rotor spacing increases drag exponentially and therefore caps Vmax sharply.

      Sikorsky executives themselves admitted that X2 technology does not scale up, and claimed it maxes out at the “medium” class. If FVL is designed to be a single paradigm for L, M, and H classes then anything leveraging the ABC concept cannot achieve the heavy category from the start.

      • Dfens

        What a bunch of crap. I’m sure the Sikorsky officials are running around bad mouthing their own design. The point of the coaxial rotor aircraft is, much like the Cheyenne before them, to develop most of the lift at speed with the fuselage and appendages unloading the rotor. An unloaded rotor has little interaction even with another nearby rotor other than some compression wave impingement.

  • Rob C.

    I’ll believe it when they build it and congress actually approve it. Almost every major ticket item these day from Army’s new Armored Carrier, Light Combat Vehicle, etc, get into trouble and is deplayed forever. I’ll be surprise this doesn’t run into the same problems.

  • Mystick

    Yet another round of AirCav dreaming and DARPA welfare for chassis manufacturers… super.

  • As a very old rotor head, why do we keep wasting tax money. I started my career in the Marine Corps in the UH-34. Transitioned to the CH-46, Ch-53, and the Ospry. There are so many good designs out there, like theCheyenne and the Osprey. Lets think about this long and hard before we blow billions

  • George

    When did the Army get HELOS?

  • Kevin

    Awesome… but I heard that they’re already maken em in China for half price… However, FINALLY, shit that works!

  • reader

    Rah-66 comanche, anyone ?

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  • Rishi

    Well, these super-hightech super-costly will still be shot down by 1 Stinger, right ?!?!!!

  • Rishi

    Well, these super-hightech super-costly helos would still be shot down by 1 Stinger, right ?!?!!!

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