RIDLEY PARK, Pa. — Boeing executives briefing reporters on May 16 at the company's pre-Paris Air Show media tour remain mum on the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) design the company is working on for the U.S. Army under a $772 million development contract last month.
The Army's Cross-Functional Team on Future Vertical Lift is examining an acceleration of the Future Vertical Lift program, and the service on April 23 awarded five industry contracts for the development of FARA.
Boeing said that it does not want to reveal any details that might give competitors a leg up in the competition.
But it appears unlikely that the design is a replica or even a derivative of the AH-64E Block II compound helicopter, as the AH-64E has a maximum gross weight of 23,000 pounds, while the Army is seeking a less costly, 14,000 pound aircraft for FARA. In January, as planned, Boeing completed a series of six wind tunnel tests on a 30 percent scale model of an AH-64E Block II compound helicopter, which the company says it could field by the end of 2028.
The AH-64E Block II compound helicopter would feature a wing and a rear propulsor, increase aircraft speed to 185 knots, increase payload to 5,900 pounds hover out of ground effect (HOGE) on takeoff, and increase range to 460 nm.
While Boeing had said that the compound helicopter could serve as a gap filler prior to the U.S. Army Future Vertical Lift program coming online, the company now says that the compound Apache, which Boeing has funded with internal research and development funding, could instead boost Apache capabilities in an FVL environment, capabilities like enhanced speed to keep up with whatever design the Army selects for the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA).
Last month, the Army laid out its desires for FLRAA in a Request for Information, desires which focus on a replacement for the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk--the FLRAA assault mission--and no longer seem to include a FLRAA attack version--an Apache replacement.
"Conspicuously absent is Apache," said Randy Rotte, the Boeing director of Future Vertical Lift. "It appears the focus is on the assault variant."
Boeing and Sikorsky are teamed on the SB-1 Defiant, which features a coaxial, rigid-rotor design and eight rotor blades, four each on two counter-rotating main rotors and a rear eight-bladed pusher-propulsor — basically a backward propeller — to provide forward thrust. The blades' pitch is variable to maximize thrust and perform quietly at high speed.
Boeing has said that the Defiant is "a 160-knot aircraft" with the propeller not turning and that with the propeller turning, "it's a 260 knot machine."
The company plans to start rear propeller testing this year. The Army request for information from industry on FLRAA lays out a desire for 280 knots maximum continuous cruise speed at max power.
Sikorsky and Boeing officials said that they will be able to meet such a goal through modifications, which would likely mean bigger engines and transmissions and a larger air frame and more horsepower going through the rear pusher prop, a higher horsepower generation that would mean higher drag and less efficiency.
The two most likely competitors for FLRAA are the Defiant and Bell's V-280 Valor advanced tiltrotor. Both aircraft are participating in the Army’s ongoing Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program.
While the maximum gross weight of a Black Hawk is 23,000 pounds, and the aircraft costs about $19 million a copy, the SB-1 is 32,000 pounds, and the V-280 is 57,000 pounds.
Rotte said he was heartened by the Army RFI's per copy price of $43 million, a "recognition that it's [FLRAA's] going to cost more," he said.
For more on Future Vertical Lift, check out an interview with R&WI editor Dan Parsons on "The Business End," a podcast about the business of defense.