MD969 Combat Explorer (Photo by Dan Parsons)
MD Helicopters is jumping into the U.S. Army Future Attack Recon Aircraft (FARA) competition with a new, all-composite, winged version of its 969 twin-engine attack aircraft.
The new 969 will cruise at 160 knots and sprint at 180 knots, which puts it at the threshold speed requirement for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA). Based on the 969, the company is developing a winged variant that uses MD’s no-tail-rotor (NOTAR) technology that will fly at up to 200 knots, squarely in the Army’s desired capability range.
“That’s called our Swift,” MD Chief Executive Lynn Tilton said during a March 5 press conference at the Helicopter Association International’s HeliExpo conference here. “That is really an evolution of the NOTAR aircraft that is, start-to-finish, a brand-new design. … From scratch, completely composite, brand-new NOTAR system and it will meet the FARA requirements of 200 knots.”
The company already builds several military aircraft for the U.S. and foreign allies and partner nations, including the AH-6 Little Bird for U.S. Special Operations Command. It joins Bell, an AVX/L3 team, Airbus and Sikorsky in competing to build the Army’s new FARA platform, which the service describes as a “knife fighter” helicopter that will fill the gap left by retiring the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.
MD is working with Pratt & Whitney to increase the engine speed on the Swift, Tilton said. While MD plans to build a Swift demonstrator this year and has already responded to the Army’s FARA program with its intended design, much of the focus in 2019 will be on certifying the traditional 969 twin-engine light attack aircraft, Tilton said.
“This year, the big effort is the 902/969,” Tilton said. “We put this line on hold for a couple of years as we tried to meet all the certifications for light attack helicopters. … This is the year we finish up the certifications for the 969 attack helicopter.”
First, MD must get an FAA type certification for the Genesys Aerosystems glass cockpit in the military variant of the 902 Explorer, which is designated the 969 Combat Explorer. Plans are to have that systems-OK’d for flight by the end of 2019.
That will give MD three in-production military helicopters: the 530F Cayuse Warrior with a gross takeoff weight of 3,750 pounds, the 530G with a takeoff weight of 3,950 pounds and the twin-engine 969 with 6,770 pounds of payload capacity at an empty gross weight of 3,350 pounds.
“That means a lot of weapons, a lot of mission equipment and it’s all under $15 million, which really gives us a niche in the light attack space,” Tilton said.
“We’re really trying to grow into being a defense contractor from a commercial company,” she added. “That doesn’t mean that we’re not devoted to our commercial customers. We have long-time customers in law enforcement and on the power lines and we are extremely grateful for that business. We need to get better at juggling the military and commercial business.”
MD will deliver more than 80 aircraft in 2018 and 2019, most of them military, Tilton said. Of the 110 light attack military aircraft built in the U.S. since 2012, 105 were MD helicopters, she said. Most of the aircraft delivered through 2019 will be single-engine because the twin-engine variants are still under development and awaiting certification.
The company builds the MD530F Cayuse Warrior for the U.S. Army and has delivered 60 to Afghanistan and six to Kenya. Malaysia was the launch customer for the new 530G light attack helicopter and soon will deliver that aircraft to Lebanon under an airworthiness release certification, Tilton said.
Tilton predicted another 30 to 35 percent revenue increase in 2019, above the 60 percent increase in revenue for 2018. The company began last year with about 430 total employees and currently has more than 700 personnel, she said.
“We’re going through a lot of growth and the growing pains that come with that growth,” she said. “We are trying to get a tremendous number of certifications done, both with the FAA as well as with the Army…We’re excited by the prospect, but also overwhelmed by the work effort. We’re trying to hire people quickly enough to meet the demands.”