One of the benefits of being a consultant in the helicopter industry is interacting with great people. Aussies, Brits or folks from Amman, helicopter people share a zest for life that’s hard to match. I derive particular joy in spending time in the company of serving military officers. They fly neat stuff, tell good stories and allow us to sleep at night, knowing that they are guarding both our front and back door. This column may terminate that relationship, at least with U.S. Air Force officers. A Chinook for CSAR? After that statement, I guess I better forget about any free meals out of Boeing while I am at it.
Some of you may ask “what in the wide wide world of sports” makes this ex-Army chief warrant officer, Vietnam era, commercial pilot think he’s in any position to tell the USAF how to define a requirement for a CSAR platform. My main qualification is that I pay taxes. I don’t like paying taxes, but I do believe in supplying our military with the equipment it needs to get the job done. This is where I part company with the USAF regarding the CSAR concept as envisioned by the RFP that was recently canceled. Starting with World War II, through today, I would assume that if a USAF CSAR aircraft had the capability to recover three downed airmen it could complete 98 percent of all the CSAR missions flown in that time period. What’s not an assumption is that during the Vietnam War, the USAF suffered one rescue crewman fatality and two aircraft losses per 9.2 downed air crewman recovered. The U.S. Navy losses were even worse, according to globalsecurity.org. Obviously this is a dangerous mission with considerable moral, morale and political elements involved. I absolutely understand the need to accomplish the mission of recovering flight crew personnel, or others that have come in harm’s way. Here is my question. Is a 100-foot long, 50,000-lb. helicopter that must be partially disassembled to fly in a C-17, and requires 10-plus man-hours per flight hour to maintain (Project On Government Oversight figures), the answer? Both the taxpayer and the pilot in me think not. The cancellation of this acquisition is disappointing to the crews tasked to perform this mission, but it represents an opportunity to attain a superior aircraft that is cheaper to buy, maintain and support.
The USAF needs to drop the requirement for a stand-up cabin. Stand-up cabins require big airframes that are heavy and aerodynamically dirty that require more power, fuel and maintenance to do the same mission. What percentage of a CSAR mission will be accomplished with the crew standing in the back of the aircraft vs. sitting? Transportation of a stand-up cabin aircraft delays deployment and further complicates the logistics of fielding this aircraft. Simply saying, “that’s the way we have always done it” is not a logical excuse to continue with the same practice.
The limiting factor with conventional helicopters for this mission is a lack of speed leading to lack of range. In 1971 Lockheed’s Cheyenne helicopter had a cruise speed of 225 mph and a range of 1,250 miles. It’s 40 years later, are we telling ourselves that we can’t achieve those numbers now? Consider the Piasecki Speedhawk, the Sikorsky X2 or the Gerbino Flight Services compound aircraft. We can do better.
Most of us are probably more familiar with the Black Hawk airframe so let’s use the Speedhawk as an example. Start with an M-model install the -8 engines; fly by wire and full digital controls. The Speedhawk has short wings, so why not fill them with fuel? Add a 19-inch plug in the aircraft (I have heard Sikorsky engineers speak of this). Now you have a Black Hawk that will carry a crew of four with three pararescue jumpers; go 200 knots for five hours; hover at an impressive hot and high figure; and get the mission done.
My use of the Speedhawk instead of the Sikorsky X2 or Gerbino Flight Systems Compound Aircraft is only for illustration purposes. I have a greater knowledge of the possibility with the Speedhawk. Perhaps the others are better. Maybe we should find out!
The last suggestion for our mythical CSAR aircraft is to contractually obligate the OEM to provide all engineering data required for the installation of specialized equipment for the second phase of the project. Require a second RFP be awarded for the specialized equipment completion. The OEM would certainly be invited to bid on the second RFP, but would have to win that work in open competition with other interested parties.