By By Andrew Drwiega, military editor | July 1, 2010
Phil Dunford, vice president and general manager, Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, called once again for greater collaboration among OEMs in the helicopter business and said that joint industry/government partnerships were the way forward for the good of the industry sector. Dunford spoke in June at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, where he gave a lecture on “Global Rotorcraft at the Crossroads—What does the Future Hold?”
This is a theme Dunford has been evangelizing since he briefed this writer at the Le Bourget Air Show in Paris last summer. Dunford is acutely aware that Boeing’s rotorcraft production rate drops off significantly after 2018. This contrasts drastically with the company’s short-term construction program, which will see the CH-47 Chinook factory being rebuilt as the company ramps up to producing six of the aircraft per month—the highest output of these heavy lifters since the Vietnam War.
The fact that worries Dunford is that the CH-47 first flew in 1961. Sure the performance has increased and the designers have done a sterling job in continually modernizing the aircraft, keeping it in position as one of the most sought-after aircraft on the battlefield, along with its little cousin the AH-64 Apache. Dunford comes back to the fact that there have only been nine new build military programs in the last 50 years in the U.S.—and only two in the last 36 years (V-22 and ARH Comanche, the latter of which was cancelled).
There are numerous difficulties that helicopter OEMs have to overcome, he states, not least the fact that although helicopters are now more widely used in the military and in the civil sector, they still do not draw funding anywhere near as much as the fixed-wing sector. Research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) for rotorcraft is virtually at a 50-year low, he said, contrasting to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter) development costs alone would exceed the total of the last 50 years of rotorcraft development in the U.S.
One solution is closer collaboration between the world’s OEMs, and between this group and government. He says that the Vertical Lift Consortium that has been established in the U.S. is a good way in that it will encourage industry and the user to jointly talk and debate what will be important in terms of capability a decade into the future. But he still cites a number of factors where industry needs to come together more in collaborating over common problems.