Companies supporting U.S. Army efforts to flesh out a Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) aircraft expect a new lot of funding for more research soon. But the real question, as a senior Army aviation leader posed one Washington evening last month, is who will own that aircraft if it is every built.
Sikorsky Aircraft, a Bell Helicopter/Boeing team, and Karem Aircraft cleared the first JHL hurdle last year, having been selected to continue work on their proposals. Sikorsky had proposed a high-speed lifter based on its X2 technology demonstrator. Bell/Boeing offered their Quad Tilt-Rotor two-wing evolution of their V-22, while Karem is working on an optimum-speed rotor concept. The project is looking at a C-130-size aircraft to support the Army’s Future Combat Systems programs.
But JHL has a weight problem, which is to say it may have to carry a lot more of it than originally envisioned. The program started with a payload requirement of 17 tons. That grew to 20 tons, a target to which the bidders designed. Now, though, because of growth in the Future Combat Systems, the word is that JHL will be expected to carry 30 tons. That puts the aircraft firmly in the C-130 class or bigger. The issue is not whether a vertical-lift aircraft can lift that much; the Russians have demonstrated that. Rather it is one of roles and missions.
At 30 tons, the senior Army aviation leader ventured, "the Army will never be allowed to own that aircraft."