Lockheed Joins Bell in Future Army Helicopter Competition (UPDATED)
The V-280, a follow-on to the V-22 Osprey, will likely have as its main contender a Boeing-Sikorsky team offering a version of Sikorsky’s X-2 coaxial-rotor demonstrator. Comparatively small Fort Worth, Texas-based AVX Aircraft is also in the running, but considered a long shot to win a contract to produce what the Army interchangeably calls the joint multi-role helicopter, or “future vertical lift.”
Lockheed Martin will provide advanced mission equipment package designed specifically for the future vertical lift requirements including situational awareness and disruptive sensing technologies, Bell spokeswoman Bridget Garcia said in an email.
Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry analyst with the Teal Group, said the announcement was an “interesting development” that might even a playing field that seemed dominated by the Boeing-Sikorsky team.
“This brings a lot of political clout and resources to the equation,” Aboulafia told National Defense. “From a rotorcraft industry standpoint, it was hard to imagine anyone going up against a team of Boeing and Sikorsky, which created what looked like a killer industry team. This evens things out a bit, but not completely.”
The team rosters are especially interesting given the fact that the V-22 is built by Bell and Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, who now find themselves as opponents in the competition.
That originally came about when Boeing “defected” to Sikorsky and its X-2 technology, signaling that the aerospace giant favored coaxial rotors over its own tiltrotor technology as the future of vertical lift, Aboulafia said.
“Sikorsky’s X-2 was a wildly divergent technology from what Bell and Boeing were building and when a 50-percent partner says ‘this is the better technology and teams up with a competitor, that was a really serious defection.’”
Bell officials said the Lockheed partnership has been in the works for “some time” and that other companies would be brought in to develop the aircraft
Because the Army began to show interest in tiltrotor technology, “we’ve been approached by a number of leading defense and aerospace firms interested in the program,” Garcia said.
The companies are in the midst of negotiating cost-sharing agreements with the Army to fund demonstrator aircraft. Contracts are expected later this month to fund prototypes that will fly in 2017.
AVX should not be discounted from the running, Aboulafia said. The company has “star power,” because the relative newcomer has a number of ex-Bell employees on its payroll, he said. “They do bring something to the table. If they come up with a killer design, they have a shot.”
Bell, which also builds the Kiowa Warrior aerial scout helicopter, unveiled the V-280 in April at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual symposium in Fort Worth.
The “third-generation” tiltrotor is currently in the design concept phase and has not yet flown.
Most notable about the design is its non-rotating, fixed-engines placed at the aircraft’s wing tips, like the Osprey. Unlike the Osprey, only the V-280’s rotors pivot up and down to allow vertical flight. This makes the aircraft more stable in hover mode and gives it better controllability than its predecessor, Bell officials said.
The Valor will have a cruise speed of 280 knots and a combat range of 500 to 800 nautical miles, depending on load and conditions. Like the Osprey it is self-deployable, which means it does not have to be shipped or flown aboard another aircraft when deploying overseas.
The Army’s goal is to develop a family of scalable helicopter designs that have common parts and systems. It is seeking a medium variant first, which will replace around 60 percent of its rotorcraft fleet. It will also fulfill the Army’s desired performance parameters of operating at 6,000 feet on a 95-degree Fahrenheit day.
Aboulafia is not convinced the Army is enthusiastic about a tiltrotor aircraft, though the service’s operational analysis report identified tiltrotor as the most effective aircraft to meet its future needs. The V-22 is flown by the Air Force and Marine Corps, which need speed and range to operate from ships at sea.
“If you don’t need the range — and the Army says it doesn’t — then what’s the point of paying a premium for tiltrotor?” Aboulafia said. “Because they are certainly going to pay a premium like the Marines did, and will.”
The Boeing-Sikorsky team is further along in development of their scalable coaxial-rotor design. The X2 — a compound helicopter with dual main rotors and a pusher-propeller at the rear — has flown at speeds of up to 250 knots in level flight.
It was developed into the S-97 Raider, Sikorsky’s armed aerial scout offering. A Raider prototype is scheduled for its first flight is 2014.
EADS North America was expected to propose a design based on Eurocopter’s X3 demonstrator, but dropped out of contention in May to focus on the elusive armed aerial scout competition. The X3, a compound helicopter with a five-bladed main rotor and two short wings fitted with propellers, has flown at a top speed of 232 knots.
Correction: This article originally stated incorrectly that the V-22 Osprey is not self-deployable. The Osprey is fully self-deployable and has done so on numerous overseas missions.