Magazine article National Defense

Manufacturers: Technology Will Make Rotorcraft Faster, Safer

Magazine article National Defense

Manufacturers: Technology Will Make Rotorcraft Faster, Safer

Article excerpt

The Pentagon's investment in rotorcraft science and technology has decreased dramatically over the past 25 years, but companies have been tinkering around in their own shops trying to fill innovation gaps.

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Industry representatives say that the next generation of military helicopters will be safer and more efficient. And no matter what shape the rotorcraft take, another thing is certain: They will be faster.

Sikorsky plans to build two prototypes of what it calls the S-97 Raider in the next few years. They will be based on the company's X-2 demonstrator that reached cruise speeds of 250 knots during a recent flight. The aircraft will feature a General Electric turbo shaft engine, coaxial rotors and a six-bladed push propeller at the tail. The prototypes will weigh 9,000 pounds and may be able to use a more powerful engine being developed under the Army's improved turbine engine program. They are being designed so they can carry one or two pilots, or none. Sikorsky plans to fly one of the prototypes in 2014, about the time the Army is scheduled to request bids for its Armed Aerial Scout program. The Army's OH-58D Kiowa Warrior's service life ends in 2025.

"The calendar is fairly unforgiving," said Chris Van Buiten, director of innovation at Sikorsky. If the Pentagon wants a new next-generation rotorcraft to replace the Kiowa Warrior, then industry should already have begun maturing the technology for it about five years ago, he said. Otherwise, "the aircraft you end up with in 2025 is pretty much the same as what you've got now."

Bell Helicopter officials believe that they already have pointed the way forward with the V-22 Osprey, which the Marines and Air Force have been using in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The tilt-rotor is a game-changer," Bell's executive vice president of engineering, Jeff Lowinger, said during a speech at the recent Helicopter Association International exposition in Orlando.

In an interview with National Defense, Lowinger said that the V-22 has allowed marines to do things in battle they could never do before. "They never really knew what they were missing and now that they've got them, they'll never go back," he said.

Marines are currently using MV-22s in Afghanistan and off the coast of Libya, where they were deployed last month to recover the pilot of a crashed F-(l5), spokesman Capt. Brian Block said. They have relied on the Osprey for tactical movement of personnel in and out of combat, medical evacuation, logistics transport, raids and other activities. The speed and range of the aircraft have allowed it to cover the entire theater of operations, something that the CH-46 cannot do, Block said. Despite its high operational tempo, the Osprey has the lowest mishap rate per 100,000 flight hours of any tactical Marine Corps rotorcraft, he added.

Bell late last year responded to an Air Force information request for a future heavy lift aircraft. The company, along with its V-22 partner Boeing, had been studying the concept of a quad tilt-rotor, which would feature four sets of prop-rotors as opposed to the two that are on the V-22. It has also looked into a more conventional tilt-rotor design. All of these ideas are spiraling into what Bell sees as the next-generation tilt-rotor, said Lowinger, who also oversees work at Bell's Xworx prototyping facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

European companies are positioning themselves to sell their products to the U.S. military as well. Their work bears the same hallmarks as that of their American competitors. In fact, Italy-based AugustaWestland is working on a light tilt-rotor with Bell, the BA-609. The aircraft would have a maximum cruise speed of 275 knots, officials said. They consider the BA-609 a match for the Coast Guard and for military surveillance, transport and medical evacuation missions.

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"In 50 years, a lot of aviation will be this kind of machine," said Emilio Dalmasso, executive vice president of sales at Augusta West-land. …

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