THOSE INVOLVED IN THE BELEAGUERED U.S. Army ARH-70A Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program uniformly expressed bafflement over the Army’s actions against Bell Helicopter and its contractor team.
To recap, with the 500-plus-aircraft program running a year or more behind schedule, top Army officials informed Bell late on March 20 that its contract for the program would be canceled. The next day, the Army said, "No, not canceled, but you’ll stop work and give us a plan within 30 days for salvaging the program." A week later, the Army said Bell could resume work on the program, though the service wouldn’t guarantee it would reimburse Bell and its team members for that work.
Those actions coincided with public pronouncements that added to the mystery. Army officials, for instance, were quoted as saying Bell’s unit price for the aircraft had nearly doubled, from $5.2 million per aircraft when the plan was to acquire 368 aircraft to nearly $10 million. Bell officials wondered where the number came from, saying they hadn’t discussed a new price with the service.
One member of Bell’s contractor team (which includes EFW, FLIR Systems, General Dynamics, Honeywell, and Rockwell Collins) wondered if the Army leaders’ actions weren’t intended simply to scare the contractors into taking the service’s concerns and schedule demands seriously. That brought to mind a scene from the 1970 movie "Patton," for which the late George C. Scott won an Oscar for his role as the title character. The scene, quickly recalled as well by this contractor, comes as Patton’s 3rd Army, racing to the aid of 101st Airborne troops surrounded at Bastogne, Belgium in December 1944, is slowed by foul weather that deprives him of air cover. He shouts to his staff from a balcony inside a bomb-damaged headquarters that if they fail in their mission, "Let no man come back alive!"
As recounted in the movie, an aide then whispers: "You know General, sometimes the men don’t know when you’re acting."
"It’s not important for them to know," Scott’s Patton replies. "It’s only important for me to know."
If the Army’s purpose was to get the attention of the ARH team, this contractor said, "they’ve certainly done that."
LOCKHEED MARTIN HAS AGGRESSIVELY carried the argument that the U.S. Air Force erred in its November 2006 choice of Boeing’s Chinook as its next-generation combat search-and-rescue helicopter.
It prevailed in protesting that contract award to the U.S. General Accountability Office (as did Sikorsky Aircraft). Then it aired complaints that the Chinook failed a key air transportability test in the Combat Search-and-Rescue-X (CSAR-X) competition and said its US101 team — which includes EH101 manufacturer AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter — remain committed to meeting the target of September 2012 for initial operating capability.
At the AHS International’s annual Forum in early May, Lockheed officials whispered that a 2002 analysis of alternatives had eliminated the Chinook from consideration.
Hopes for the EH101 team, however, hinge on whether USAF officials are open to reviewing new data on its performance on the VH-71 presidential transport contract. The service concluded the team’s poor performance on VH-71, also an EH101 variant, made it the highest risk to the CSAR-X schedule; the GAO supported it on that. The Air Force’s draft re-bid wouldn’t seem to offer that team much hope; it said the service will reconsider its calculation of the bidder’s life-cycle costs, not other contentious matters.
ROLLS-ROYCE ISN’T STOPPING with development of its new RR300 turboshaft engine for Robinson Helicopter Co.’s first turbine-powered helicopter, the five-place R66. The engine maker unveiled that poorly kept secret at this year’s Heli-Expo.
At the recent Army Aviation Assn. of America annual gathering in Atlanta, Boeing officials were busy talking about an upgraded version of their Little Bird, the A/MH-6M. Developed as a follow-on to the A/MH-6J for the U.S. Army’s 160 Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) — but available to the "green" Army as an armed reconnaissance helicopter, the aircraft will have a new-design main rotor being developed and certified by Helicopter Technology Co. (HTC) and a redesigned tail rotor and vertical stabilizer. To take full advantage of the A/MH-6M’s greater aerodynamic efficiency, the aircraft would also have a new powerplant: the Rolls-Royce RR700.
Despite the problems that have blossomed for it in 2007 and raised talked of canceled programs — both civil (the 417) and military (ARH), Bell Helicopter appears to be pushing on with development of a concept for a new, medium-weight, twin helicopter. The manufacturer has been making presentations to customers on the aircraft, which is needed in the Bell product line to compete with the appealing AW139, nee AB139, that it gave up when it split with AgustaWestland on that project.
The latest hint of hope for a real helicopter market in that Asian giant, China? The nation’s ministry that oversees municipal police aviation operations wants to join the Airborne Law Enforcement Assn. China has a national policy to establish police aviation units throughout the country.
One wag in Europe feels AgustaWestland and its parent Finmeccanica are on the prowl for a rotorcraft-related acquisition.
Look for Sikorsky to book a big sale of International Black Hawks. The scuttlebutt at Quad A in Atlanta was that the Stratford brain trust is lining up a deal to sell 60-80 of the aircraft to the United Arab Emirates.
MD Helicopters owner Lynn Tilton may disparage the industry rumor mill (see page 16). But sales folks in the field report taking regular calls from friends at MD seeking opportunities elsewhere. Among the latest departures from the Mesa maker is Chris Geller, who had been heading EMS sales.