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.

    • jay


    • Dfens

      I’ll tell you exactly what would happen if a defense contractor built something on time and on budget. They’d make much less money than they would if they dragged the program out and jacked up the cost. They know this too, that’s why they lobbied to do business with the government the way they do today. This way they can maximize profit while investing as little as possible in their own companies and capabilities. These defense contracts are little more than free money for the rich.

    • moose

      Virginia class program is doing all the above. EELV program not doing too badly either.

      • Derek Howe

        Are you referring to “Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle”? Which is now known as ULA, Also known as a rocket monopoly on government launches. Something Space X is trying to break up, which would save us tax payers a bunch of money, instead of just throwing it at giant companies that only innovate when they get our money to do THEIR R&D.

        • Dfens

          A glowing success story, for Lockheed’s bottom line.

    • Mark

      The A-10

  • 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

    • rtsy

      Pretty sure they just used them as a base for those stealth helos SOF uses now.

    • Derek Howe

      The Comanche was an awesome helo, no doubt. But we have to have a military we can afford. Dedicated attack helo’s are pointless. It’s better to do something where different variants of the same helo, use a large portion of the same parts, to help keep costs down.

      • SpcPoole

        Yah cause that’s working so well with the F35, right?

        • Derek Howe

          The one thing that the F-35 has going for it, IS the fact that all 3 variants use some of the same parts. Just because the whole program is being run poorly, that has nothing to do with using some of the same parts to help keep costs down. So you must think that if they didn’t share any of the same components that they would be cheaper?! Yu are dead wrong, and don’t have any grasp on economics.

      • Steve

        “Dedicated attack helo’s are pointless”. Goodness knows dedicated attack helo’s are not battle tested and concept proven on the battlefield world over and everyone has quit building them as well. Rotary wing aircraft do not lend themselves to multimission commonality as well as other platforms due to weight/performance constraints. The dedicated attack helo is a lethal, adaptive and more survivable platform that is really good to have with you when you need them.Maneuver, speed and lethality put them in the essential toolbox. I dislike costs of current weapon systems immensely, but wholesale elimination of critical capabilities is not a panacea either.

        • Derek Howe

          I just don’t see a need for apache’s or an apache replacement. You can have the helo’s drop of the Spec Ops guys, and they can all be watched far more effectively from a C-130 gunship, which would be high enough up where you couldn’t even hear it, and it can take out anything an apache can, and the terrorists wouldn’t even know it’s there.

  • 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.

    • blight_

      Johnson-McConnell is simply an agreement between services that could presumably be overridden by an executive order. It’s not a /law/ in the sense that would give Congress much direct control. Congress is free to kick off hearings and excoriate generals until they supersede Johnson-McConnell…but are they in a rush to do so? Nope.

      • Bernard

        Johnson-McConnell needs to go away so the Army can take their A-10’s from the Air Force before they get scrapped (assuming that hasn’t already happened).

        • blight_


          A number of billets would move from the Air Force to the Army. The Army would then have to assume responsibility for airbase maintenance, and would in turn need more billets for those, presumably taken from the air force.

          I count five active bases. Presumably these could become joint bases and all’s well. But if the Army just flew them but depended on the air force to do ATC and base maintenance, what’re the odds that the A-10 would still get short shrift?

          • The Army actually owns quite a few airfields. Just about every major base has one that the Army maintains.

          • Musson

            I have to believe that maintaining the A-10 would be WAY EASIER than maintaining an Apache helicopter.

          • tiger

            Next season Kevin Bacon will have to fight cult more dangerous than Joe Carroll, The A-10 worshipers. Running about stabbing people with 30mm rounds & wearing Warthog masks……

    • Bernard

      Burt Rutan’s prototype’s don’t work.

  • 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?

    • tiger

      I’m back to job hunting.

  • 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.

    • Bruce

      Excuse my helichopper aero ignorance, but i can’t think of any co-ax that doesn’t still have a vertical stab/control surface (yes i’m only really thinking of Kamov designs). Does the AVX propose to get around that via the thrust fans and assymetric thrust? In which case what happens on engine failure? Or is it just not necessary on a modern co-axial helicopter?

      • Dfens

        Actually it is not required on a co-axial or a counter rotating twin rotor helicopter such as the Chinook or the K-max. Yaw can be induced by differentially powering or braking one of the rotors. In the case of the AVX design, they could induce yaw by differentially powering the thrust fans if they wanted to do that. In fact, it would seem that there’s an opportunity here to do away with conventional helicopter swash plate controls and save money by using the thrust fans and aerodynamic surfaces for pitch, roll, and yaw controls, but they don’t appear to be taking advantage of that possibility. Probably just one more thing their crack team of soap bottle designers didn’t get to yet.

  • 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


      • Dfens

        True. They’ll never use fusion reactors for aircraft. They produce far too much neutron radiation for that. There’s no way you could adequately shield those neutrons away from the vehicle occupants or crew. Soon every part of the vehicle would be self illuminating.

    • 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?

    • Dfens

      Think of all the valuable information they will be able to take away from such a program. Of course, none of that information will be as valuable as the 2 billion the defense contractors involved will put in their bank accounts as a result of such a boondoggle.

  • 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.

      • moondawg

        In some other nations the AF is almost subordinate to the Army and their primary mission is to provide CAS for the Army. Our AF only grudgingly provides minimal CAS.

    • 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.

      • blight_

        Even the export-oriented European arms industry has government handholding for the lean years.

        • Dfens

          I’m pretty sure that these are not the “lean years” given that military spending still exceeds the Cold War peaks seen during Reagan’s military build up. I believe the Sikorsky S-97 is already being developed by private funds. If they can foot the bill for their aircraft, why can the rest of these companies not do the same? Well, ok, except for that AVX piece of crap. Clearly only our government would fund something like that.

  • 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.

        • LoSul

          X-2 Maxes Out in Medium-Sized Role: Sikorsky Executive

          You do realize that the X2 and any ABC gets it lift at all speeds from its rotor, and HAS NO WINGS, right? The Cheyenne was a compond helicopter, which means it had wings to provide lift at high speed when the rotor was unloaded. X2/S97/SB1 put the rotors in autorotation in high speed, but they are still producing lift. Unlike the fuselage and non-existent wings, which dont do anything for lift.

          Nobody is talking about the interaction between the rotors aerodynamically, its about a rigid rotor at high speed edgewise flight, and the lead-lag causing massive vibrations even with the rotor slowed. The entire back seat of the X2TD was MOOG FG units to address this issue….all on a 7,000 vehicle. Add to that the issue of flapping and that any manuever at high speed will drive blade loads and flapping up, which at larger rotor radii will cause major tip path plane issues.

          • Dfens

            I’m pretty sure more than you and I know how the Cheyenne developed lift at speed, and it did create fuselage lift. If you look at the Sikorsky design their fuselage is clearly laid out to develop lift as well. It would certainly create a helluva lot more lift than that brick like Cheyenne did. Wanting Sikorsky to fail is not going to make it happen. Their design will succeed or fail on it’s own merits, and using their money too. It might out rage you that they’d dare use their own money to build such an aircraft, but when it is their money, I’m willing to wait a few months and see how they do.

  • 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

    • Dfens

      As an “old rotor head” you never were shot at and wished you could do 250 to 300 kts going through a hot zone? It seems to me the goals of this program are plenty worthy and the technology is there to get the speed, it’s mainly just a matter of someone coming up with a design that’s worth funding and then not screwing us taxpayers over too badly while they design something that’s producible.

      • Mystick

        25 years and billions to make a functioning V-22…. and none of our ground equipment will fit in it(it was originally designed when we still used JEEPS)

        Let’s do it again!

        • Dfens

          Yes, I can’t argue with that. The screwing the US taxpayer and the soldiers get on each and every program today is undeniable.

  • 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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