Firms display possible replacements for rotorcraft fleet 

By Nick Adde

Two of the four major players at the beginning of a competition to develop the possible replacement platform for the Army’s fleet of aging rotor aircraft strove to make their respective cases during the 2013 Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

The impetus for the two companies – Bell Helicopter Textron and Sikorsky Aircraft – came from an Oct. 3 announcement by the Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., which named them and two other firms – AVX Aircraft and Karem Aircraft – as the four finalists to develop suitable aircraft. (AVX and Karem Aircraft did not participate actively in the annual meeting.)

Under the AMRDEC directive, the four companies will have nine months to refine and develop their designs. Each must produce a demonstrator aircraft by the summer or fall of 2017. At that point, AMRDEC will select two of the four companies to continue developing their prototype aircraft. 

Even then, the project’s fate is uncertain. 

Future vertical lift “is an initiative; not yet a solution,” AMRDEC stated in its announcement.  

During the AUSA meeting and exposition, Bell Helicopter Textron strove to demonstrate that the V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft, it is developing jointly with Lockheed Martin and other companies, would meet the Army’s needs. 

At first blush, Valor is easy to mistake for its corporate cousin – the V-22 Osprey. Significant differences – including a fixed wing and the lack of a need to collapse anything for storage on aircraft carriers – render the V-280 a much more cost-effective bird than the Osprey, better suited to meet Army requirements, the company claimed. 

It can be configured as a high-endurance transport or a high-performance attack platform, with the potential to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk or AH-64 Apache someday. 

Valor also would be able to fly at 280 knots true air speed for a combat range of between 500 and 800 nautical miles, carry a crew of four plus 11 troops, and haul a useful load of more than 12,000 pounds, according to Bell literature. 

“Team Valor will create an exponential increase in capability for maneuver … and revolutionize future doctrine and operations, especially in combat theaters where long legs and flexibility are key,” said Bell spokeswoman Susan Gordon.

Sikorsky Aircraft of Stratford, Conn., offered a distinctly different aircraft into the contest, unveiling its new name – SB-1 Defiant – on Oct. 21 at AUSA.

  The company is developing Defiant jointly with Boeing and other corporate partners.

 Defiant closely resembles a conventional helicopter in looks and performance. The stark difference is its coaxial dual-rotor design. Running in counter-rotation to each other, the two large rotors would allow the aircraft to move with twice the maneuverability and speed of conventional helicopters, said Sikorsky spokesman Frans Jurgens. Speed would be boosted by the aircraft’s pusher propeller, which is situated at the rear of the aircraft where a tail rotor would be on a conventional helicopter.

“It is designed to retain all the attributes of a helicopter,” said Jurgens. “In 2010, a demonstrator reached 250 knots in a flight speed test.” In time, the Pentagon will decide whether to extend the life of its vertical-lift inventory, retire it, or replace it with one of the designs the four companies are now preparing, AMRDEC said in its statement.