Aviation giants enter home stretch to replace Black Hawk

Aviation giants enter home stretch to replace Black Hawk

Bell Textron V-280 Valor, Boeing-Sikorsky Defiant X

Pictures of Bell Textron, Boeing-Sikorsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As the Army prepares to decide on a replacement for the venerable but aging Black Hawk, the contestants put the finishing touches to their bids.

The service is expected to make a decision on its future Long Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA, program this fall, a decision so imminent that the Army has entered a “quiet period” on the competition.

Future Vertical Lift – which includes FLRAA and the service’s future reconnaissance helicopter – is one of the Army’s top three modernization priorities as the service prepares for major competition with China and Russia. The Army’s first unit is expected to be equipped with FLRAAs by FY2030.

The rapidly approaching contract decision doesn’t mean both teams haven’t been busy. Executives from opposing aerospace teams Boeing-Sikorsky and Bell Textron said they were using the coming months to reduce risk to their platforms through additional testing and qualification and digital manufacturing efforts.

Each team developed a radically different Black Hawk platform, which dates back to the 1970s.

A Boeing pilot and a Sikorsky pilot flew the Defiant X – the team’s prototype based on the experimental Sikorsky X2 coaxial twin-rotor helicopter – 700 nautical miles from West Palm Beach, Fla., to Nashville for the summit of the Army Aviation Association of America.

While it was risky to make the trip using the prototype, test pilots’ confidence in the platform convinced executives to get it off the ground, Paul Lemmo, president of Sikorsky, said during a briefing. press preceding the summit.

“We asked our engineering and safety teams to look very thoroughly at the dispatch…but the test riders were confident every step of the way and really that’s what helped us. to make the decision,” he said.

Although the flight itself was risky, he noted other risk reduction techniques used by the engineering team, such as platform assessments and design via a testbed of propulsion.

Until the competition decides, Boeing and Sikorsky will continue to fly the Defiant X and perform tests that “expand the flight envelope,” Lemmo said. Sikorsky and Boeing have already demonstrated the requirements of the Army’s Joint Multirole Demonstration contract, which the companies won in 2020, he noted. The Army awarded the companies the contracts to develop a prototype for the competition, and the two companies entered the second phase of the program in March last year.

“So all we’re doing now is really just additional testing that we want to do,” he said.

While Bell’s V-280 Valor prototype – a Bell-designed V-22 Osprey-based tiltrotor – doesn’t see as much flight time, the company is working just as hard to reduce risk to the program, Frank Lazarra, director of the Advanced Vertical Lift, said on the sidelines of the Army Aviation Summit.

After the prototype plane stopped flying, Bell’s engineering team removed the gearboxes and performed technical inspections and validations with “very positive results,” he said.

“There are always exchanges or back and forth between us and our government teammates about the needs or possibilities of the aircraft,” he said.

Bell wants to show how quickly it can make parts once the program kicks off, Lazarra said. The company opened its Manufacturing Technology Center last year to reduce cycle times across its business. Shortening the production time of the V-280 is one of its main goals, said Gerard Nanni, head of manufacturing innovation.

For example, a shaft used on the tiltrotor has a delivery time of 330 days, but the center was able to reduce that to 16 hours, Nanni explained. It makes the whole undertaking less risky for the military, he said.

“We are able to incorporate changes quickly due to our shortened standard time and manufacturing,” he said.
Developing training and system integration options for the platform will be another focus during Bell’s time before a contract is awarded.

Although the Sikorsky-Boeing team took to the air to make their case to the military, Lazarra pointed out that Bell’s tiltrotor design has performed flights of similar length in the past. For example, the V-280 flew from Amarillo, Texas to Fort Worth approximately 370 miles nonstop. The V-280 aircraft did not have to stop to refuel during this trip, unlike the Defiant X flight, which flew twice the distance and had to refuel twice, Lazarra said.

At the same time, competitors fight to prove the mettle of their FLRAA engines. Honeywell’s HTS7500 turboshaft engine will power the Defiant X, announced by Boeing and Sikorsky in March.

The turboshaft is undergoing Defiant X integration testing and further qualification testing this year. An example of a test is measuring its resistance to pressure, said John Russo, vice president and general manager of the Honeywell Aerospace military turbine engine product line, at a company event in April.

Without using “exotic” materials such as ceramic coatings, the engine can maintain low turbine temperatures “for reliability, maintainability as well as risk reduction,” he said. He explained that sticking to the coatings currently in use prevents the turbine from melting without the risk of less proven technology.

Lazarra noted that the Rolls Royce AE 1107F engine on the V-280 results in a more efficient platform than the Bell V-22, which is powered by a Rolls-Royce T406.

Although not much is known about the engine announced by Rolls Royce in 2020, Rolls Royce director of defense programs Candice Bineyard said it is already in production.

Rolls Royce has invested $600 million to modernize its facilities and manufacturing capabilities. The company has “really put itself in a position to deliver,” she said.

Meanwhile, the progress of the future Army Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA, depends on the development of its engine. The Army hopes to field its future reconnaissance helicopter in 2028, but industry competitors say they are waiting for the Army and its industrial partner General Electric to conclude its modernized turbine engine design before their efforts can fully start. The Army awarded General Electric a $517 million contract to replace the GE T700 engine with a T901 engine under a program called the Turbine Engine Upgrade Program, according to the company.

For example, Bell’s Invictus 360 prototype is about 85% complete and will hit 90% in May or June, said Chris Gehler, vice president and Invictus program manager.

“We’re going to do everything we can without the engine…but once we have the engine, we’ll do the whole loop test,” he said on the sidelines of the aviation conference. ‘army.

General Electric has provided a 3D-printed version of the T901 to work with until the finished product is ready for first flight in November, Brig. Gen. Robert Barrie, general manager of the Army Aviation Program. Despite testing delays resulting from COVID-19, Barrie added he was confident in GE’s ability to deliver by November and then achieve first flight in the third quarter of 2023.

“There’s a path for them to fly in 23,” Barrie said. “There is some risk associated with this, but everyone is on deck to manage and mitigate those risks.”

The engine reached “flame” — the first time fuel was ignited in the engine — in March, a “significant” milestone, Barrie added.

Gehler said Bell’s engineering team was doing checks on the plane’s “electronics” and hydraulics. The fit test of the 3D-printed motor with the Invictus air frame was successful, he noted.

Bell has brought the price of Invictus “well below” the $30 million average cost per rig required by the military, according to Gehler. He said the platform’s reduced size and weight helped keep costs down.

The Raider X – Sikorsky-Boeing’s FARA offering – is at a similar completion rate to its rival for the initial design – around 85%, said Jay Macklin, Sikorsky’s business development manager for the future lift. vertical.

While waiting for the engine, the engineering team wants to reduce the overall risk of the program, Macklin noted. This includes building a second fuselage for the prototype.

“The reason we did this is that this is now integrated into our structural test program [and] will be used to validate airframe and ground load capacity in the airframe,” he said.

The second fuselage gives Sikorsky the chance to build a second competitive prototype, but “we’ll sort of make those decisions as we go along,” Macklin said. The company will also provide the military with test data on the S-97 Raider, the platform on which the Raider X is based, he noted.

“As all the programs move through their process and things move, we believe this is the best way to reduce risk to provide an absolutely low risk solution for this Increment 1 design,” he said. -he declares.

For the coming year, the army is not slowing down its investments in the future vertical lift. Service officials told reporters the Army is requesting $1.5 billion for its future vertical lift program, nearly identical to last year’s budget request.

The 2023 budget request includes $468.7 million for FARA hardware and software development, component subsystem assembly, integration, and testing, and software and hardware efforts in the loop, said Brig. Gen. Michael McCurry at a roundtable in March after the release of the budget request.

He added that the $693.6 million request for the FLRAA would be used to complete preliminary design efforts, weapon systems and virtual prototyping. Later in fiscal year 2023, the Army will use the funding to pursue weapons system contract options, he said.

The future vertical lift portfolio will not change the “core skills” of aviation, but the way the army fights will change, Maj. Gen. David Francis told a panel at the summit army aviation.

“The geometry of the battlefield, the options available to maneuver commanders, are going to change significantly, and we’re going to be able to provide a lot more capabilities and a lot more options to our maneuver commanders based on the capability that the future vertical lift is going to provide,” he said.


Topics: Army News, Air Force

Margie D. Carlisle