EADS North America confirms it has submitted a bid to build one of two advanced-rotorcraft technology demonstrators planned under the the US Army's Joint Multi Role (JMR) program -- putting its foot on the first rung of a ladder that could lead to replacing all of the Army's UH-60 Black Hawks and AH-64 Apaches beginning in the mid-2030s.
EADS is not saying what configuration it has proposed for JMR, but the Army's Aviation Applied Technology Directorate has called for a cruise speed of 230kt -- 50% faster that a conventional helicopter -- so it is likely to be based on Eurocopter's X3 hybrid helicopter technology demonstrator, which has reached 232kt in flight tests.
It is a bold move by EADS, which so far has restricted itself to offering existing platforms to the Pentagon (Eurocopter EC145-based UH-72 successfully, Airbus A330-based KC-46 unsuccessfully and now the EC145-based AAS-72 ... well, wait and see). The JMR technology demonstrators are to fly in 2017 as a precursor to the planned Future Vertical Lift (FVL) medium utility program to develop a replacement for the UH-60 to be fielded from 2035.
Boeing and Sikorsky have already teamed to offer a JMR demonstrator based on Sikorsky's X2 high-speed coaxial-rotor compound helicopter configuration, which has exceeded 260kt in flight tests. Bell Helicopter has proposed a tiltrotor and AVX Aircraft has offered a coaxial-rotor, dual ducted-fan design.
Talking to Boeing and Sikorsky a week or so ago, Sikorsky's military head Samir Mehta asked if we were surprised when the companies in January announced their long-term teaming on JMR and FVL. I said I was more surprised that the Army would allow its two major helicopter suppliers to team for its biggest-ever rotorcraft program. What about competition?
Mehta replied that he expected Eurocopter, through EADS North America, to provide the competition the Army needs. And he has been proved right. But building a technology demonstrator for the US Army could be a much bigger step for EADS than modifying the commercial EC145 into the light-utility UH-72, and now the armed-scout AAS-72.
And, before you all say the Army would never buy a troop-carrying helicopter with propellers whirling right next to the cabin doors, here is a US patent application from 2010 that shows Eurocopter has some other ideas on how a X3-style compound helicopter could be configured: