A UH-60M Black Hawk (Lockheed Martin Photo)
The office of the U.S. Army program manager for Future Vertical Lift-Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) plans to hold an industry day in Huntsville, Alabama, on July 31 to furnish insight to contractors on the Army's FLRAA acquisition approach.
The Army's wants FLRAA to focus on assuming the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk with a utility/assault mission rather than developing an attack version as a replacement for the Boeing AH-64E Apache.
The two most likely competitors for FLRAA are the Boeing-Sikorsky SB-1 Defiant and the V-280 advanced tiltrotor by Bell, a division of Textron. Both aircraft have participated in the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program.
"We continue with the flight testing and demonstration activities of our Valor V-280," Textron CEO Scott Donnelly said July 17 during a call with analysts to discuss Textron's second quarter earnings. "We have now demonstrated Army Level 1 Handling Qualities, successfully proving the aircraft's maneuverability in pitch, roll and yaw. This represents the highest performance standards for agility, which is critical to the Army mission."
The V-280 demonstrated such level 1 handling qualities in May, according to Bell.
"We are also encouraged by the Army’s recent actions regarding the potential acceleration of the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft program," Donnelly said. "These actions include an industry day scheduled at the end of this month that should allow potential contractors to gain more insight into the Army’s acquisition approach, proposed alternate procurement path through the Other Transaction Authority [OTA] mechanism to be awarded in February, and the identification of an Engineering, Manufacturing and Development program or middle tier acquisition award date estimated to occur 19 months following the OTA award."
The Senate Armed Services Committee wants the Army to consider an acceleration of FLRAA and has directed the service to submit a tailored acquisition plan by Oct. 1.
In its report on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act last month, the committee said it wants the secretary of the Army to provide a briefing on “a course of action to accelerate the FLRAA program, to include potential use of tailored acquisition strategies, procedures, and authorities with appropriate oversight, management, and technical rigor.”
The Boeing/Sikorsky SB-1 Defiant features a different technical approach than the V-280. The Defiant has a coaxial, rigid-rotor design and eight rotor blades, four each on two counter-rotating main rotors and a rear 11-foot wide 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. That rear propulsor will increase aircraft agility in a low-altitude environment and thus survivability, as the rotor craft will be able to dive quickly coming over a hill when facing possible threats, Boeing said.
Boeing has said 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 expand the flight test envelope and start rear propeller testing this year, including possible "reverse feather" testing to show that the aircraft can rapidly decelerate.
Sikorsky and Boeing officials said that they will be able to meet the Army's FLRAA goal for 280 knots maximum continuous cruise speed at max power 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.