I’ll just bet the U.S. Navy delayed the VXX competition to permit "more government-industry dialogue on design, performance, cost and trade opportunities." ("VXX Selection Delayed," May 2004, Rotorcraft Report, page 9). It certainly couldn’t have been because Navy Department officials recognized a huge political hot potato with great potential to wreck careers, particular if0 the wrong recommendation was made before a presidential election. No, politics couldn’t have had anything to do with it.
Name Withheld By Request
U.S. Army officials are kidding themselves and the American taxpayer if they truly believe monies freed up by cancellation of Comanche will be funneled into critical military rotorcraft programs ("Flying Hot and High," May 2004, page 42).
The Comanche program may have been "sucking the oxygen out of all new technology development programs," as one industry wag said. The aircraft may have been one whose time had come and gone before it could be fielded. But I doubt seriously that any of the funds that had been planned for the Comanche in the next few years will end up helping other elements of Army Aviation. Likewise, don’t expect to see much Comanche technology migrate to other platforms. That takes money, too, something Army Aviation will remain short on.
Sure, Army leadership now is pushing a new light utility helicopter and a light reconnaissance helicopter as the joint "tip of the spear" in their efforts to pare the operations and support costs of Army Aviation. For Brig. Gen. E.J. Sinclair [commanding general of the Army Aviation Center at Ft. Rucker, Ala.] to talk of a three-to-five-year procurement for these new aircraft is to fantasize. Neither the lobbying machine of Washington nor the military budget bureaucracy works that fast, and their plan won’t survive first contact with foes.
Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker and then-acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee erred by surprising official Washington with the Comanche’s cancellation. Army Aviation already is paying the price, with Congress putting the breaks on its reform until the service’s leaders present a coherent plan for that effort. Each day that action on reform is delayed Comanche money will be siphoned off. When the Army finally wins approval of an aviation reform plan (if it ever does), the service’s leaders will find the Comanche pot empty.
Many in Washington praised the Army’s bold moves in cancelling Comanche. In truth, that move meant one thing for those not involved in the program: a big money pie from which they could get more funding for their pet projects. Those singing the Army praises in public were privately sharpening knives behind their backs in preparation for whatever cutthroat acts are necessary to get their slice of that pie.
Witness news reports in late July questioning whether helicopters have a place on the modern battlefield. (One Associated Press report quoted a retired Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Merrill McPeak, as saying helicopters should stay close to the front lines or work with Air Force strike jets. "You start operating helicopters over hostile territory, I think you’ve got very serious problems," McPeak said.) I’d argue that the sentiment expressed in such reports are the opening salvos in the fight to any substantial amount of Comanche money staying in Army Aviation.
Why are we puzzled by a lack of corporate spending on offshore helicopter support services ("Awaiting the Upturn," May 2004, page 22)?
Sure, oil is at record high levels. But so is uncertainty about the future of the U.S. economy, despite all of our "whistling-past-the-graveyard" optimism witnessed at the HAI and NBAA annual conventions. Oil’s recent rise to new record levels. Warnings about specific terror threats in the Northeast and Southeast U.S. Ongoing challenges in Iraq. The course of the country after the presidential election. These are just a few of the factors that leave business executives uncomfortable about the future of the U.S. economy. Until their discomfort eases, they won’t be prying open the corporate coffers.
A Good Man
Thank you for pointing out the role that members of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board play in hearing appeals of FAA enforcement actions against airmen and other certificate holders ("Puzzling Times, and A Good Man," May 2004, page 4). In many cases, these presidential appointees keep the FAA from riding roughshod over innocent aviation professional. John J. Goglia was among those who consistently demanded the FAA present a strong case against accused airmen, and beat agency officials hard when they didn’t.
Valley Stream, N.Y.
Your August pieces on unmanned aerial vehicles paint a good picture on the impact of this new aircraft type, if you read between the lines ("Business Reconnaissance," page 20; "Border Patrol Discounts Rotary-Wing UAVs," page 16).
The Border Patrol sees little utility in rotary-wing UAVs, since they have the same limitations as manned helicopters. Fixed-wing UAVs, on the other hand, can fly further, longer, and more stealthily than helicopters can. You write that UAVs might, therefore, affect the Border Patrol’s use of fixed-wing aircraft. I’d suggest helicopter crews also look over their shoulders for a UAV wearing a cloak and carrying a scythe (ala the Grim Reaper). Their career days may be numbered.
Splitting hairs between fixed- and rotary-wing UAVs misses the point. These aircraft give operators the option to fly much more efficiently and economically many missions now performed by manned aircraft. Today, their utility is limited largely to combat areas, where the operator (the military) also controls the airspace. Once they are cleared to fly in civil airspace, our future will be transformed.