High-speed rotorcraft to be tested as Black Hawk replacement option
As it draws up requirements for an advanced rotorcraft to replace its Black Hawks after 2030, the U.S. Army wants to demonstrate configurations capable of speeds up to 230 kt.—50% faster than today's helicopters.
The Army's initial requirements for the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Medium utility rotorcraft call for speed in excess of 170 kt.—still faster than current helicopters. But its Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) plans to focus the upcoming Joint Multi-Role (JMR) technology demonstration (TD) on the 230-kt. target.
The FVL Medium model performance specification (MPS) now being finalized with inputs from government and industry configuration trade studies “reflects what we think would describe the aircraft if we snapped a line today,” says Ned Chase, AATD's JMR TD program manager. “It's a reasonable place to start.”
The “singular difference” between the model performance specification and AATD's science and technology (S&T) plan is speed, says Chase. That is because the Army has already invested heavily in conventional helicopter technology. The JMR TD program is an opportunity to balance the portfolio by investing in high-speed rotorcraft so a wider range of options will be available when FVL Medium begins around 2020.
“We have an MPS to provide an overarching description of the next-gen aircraft. It is intended to reflect the thinking of the requirements community across the Defense Dept., and their view is still 170-kt.-plus,” says Chase. “[But] we want 230 kt.”
Configuration studies by AVX Aircraft, Bell, Boeing and , as well as a government team, will be completed in the next 2-3 months. But results so far suggest only a compound helicopter or tiltrotor can meet the FVL Medium requirements. The analyses point to a 30,000-lb. gross-weight aircraft, down from the original 40,000-lb. estimate, but heavier than today's Black Hawk at 22,000 lb.
Under Phase 1 of the JMR TD, AATD plans to issue a broad agency announcement in early January calling for proposals to build demonstrator aircraft to fly in 2017. “We expect a compound or tiltrotor, but there may be others,” says Chase. AATD has funds for two demonstrators.
“We will choose three or four proposals based on what we can afford, then in preliminary design pick two that are worthy of continuing [to flight],” he says. “We can't afford more than two contractors in Phase 1, unless we get a plus-up or other partners' funding.” The Air Force and Navy have yet to join.
“The Army is investing significant resources in developing this technology,” says Mike Herbst, assistant program executive officer for engineering and technology. The Army has been designated to lead an FVL Medium acquisition integrated product team (IPT) with the participation of other services. “The acquisition IPT is developing program concepts and doing the initial planning for a material development decision,” he says.
AATD plans to get Phase 1 underway quickly, so the demonstration program can inform an FVL Medium program of record. Current plans call for two contracts for competing FVL prototypes to be awarded early in fiscal 2020, leading to a fly-off in 2023-24 and initial operational capability in 2034.
Final drafts of the broad agency announcement and model performance specification are to be released to industry this month, with the formal solicitation to follow early next year. The downselect to two demonstrators will occur at the beginning of fiscal 2015, leading to first flights in mid fiscal 2017. “There is some overlap between JMR TD and FVL Medium, and that is appropriate,” says Chase. “We have to make sure we have good, solid S&T information to pass to the program of record so it can maintain a reasonable schedule.”
AATD has awarded initial contracts for Phase 2 of the JMR TD—the mission systems demo, which is running a year behind Phase 1—but has elected not to fly competing mission-equipment packages on the two air-vehicle demonstrators. “There was significant risk and cost to the overall program of coupling those events,” says Chase. Instead the mission-system demonstration will involve modeling, simulation and laboratory work. “The risk of not having flown will be passed to the program of record, but we want to minimize that risk.”