The US Army is pursuing plans to develop a family of future vertical lift aircraft that will be able to perform a variety of mission sets. Key to that effort is a technology maturation program which has Bell and a Sikorsky-Boeing team designing new aircraft. The precursor for FVL is the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) helicopter program, through which the Army is conducting ground and flight demonstrations of advanced rotorcraft designs for a revolutionary increase in capability. “We’re looking at basically going beyond the helicopter capabilities that we have today,” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville. “We want increased range. We want increased speed. We want increased lethality.”
In 2014, it awarded contracts to Bell Helicopter/Textron and a Boeing-Sikorsky team to develop competing airframes for the Joint Multi-Role effort. Bell has been flying its V-280 Valor aircraft since December 2017. A Sikorsky-Boeing team is developing the SB-1 Defiant. The JMR program has several subprograms, with the Future Vertical Lift-Medium set to replace the UH-60 and AH-64 and the FVL-Heavy set to replace the CH-47.
The point of JMR is to help inform requirements for future vertical lift and to mature technology, Leslie Hyatt, the Army’s program director for FVL told National Defense. “It’s going to help us understand and see if the technologies that they are developing [can be applied] in a program of record,” she said.
Joint Multi-Role (JMR) helicopter program
The precursor for FVL is the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) helicopter program, which will provide technology demonstrations planned for 2017. The Joint Multi-Role (JMR) phases will provide technology demonstrations. JMR-TD will develop the aerial platform; JMR Phase I will develop the air vehicle; JMR Phase II will develop mission systems. The Army plans to acquire as many as 4,000 aircraft from the FVL program.
Thomas Russell, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology, said the JMR program — which also encompasses efforts with other vendors to examine tiltrotor design and aircraft body shapes — is making significant progress and the service is learning a great deal. “We’re just trying to bring the demonstrations to a point where we have the technology matured sufficiently so we can start making requirement generations and then make decisions in the [analysis of alternatives] and the programs of record,” he told National Defense during an interview.
US Army has awarded development contracts to two industry teams as part of Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, Sikorsky and Boeing with their SB>1 Defiant medium-lift helicopter based on Sikorsky’s X2TM coaxial design that features counter-rotating rigid main rotor blades for vertical and forward flight.
The second was Textron’s Bell Helicopter V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor design , a winged-aircraft with two rotor blades over each wing seeks to achieve airplane speeds and retain an ability to hover and maneuver like a helicopter. The new contracts are aimed at engineering a new fleet of aircraft for all the services by 2030.
Collins Aerospace selected by U.S. Army as a Mission Systems Integrator (MSI)
The U.S. Army has selected Collins Aerospace Systems as one of three companies to serve as a Mission Systems Integrator (MSI) for the Joint Multi Role (JMR) Mission Systems Architecture Demonstration (MSAD) program. The JMR MSAD program will provide critical information to the Department of Defense to develop a strategy for Future Vertical Lift (FVL), which is expected to eventually replace every Army helicopter in the United States.
As an integrator on the program, Collins Aerospace will design and demonstrate the next generation of cyber-hardened mission system architecture, and Model Based Systems Engineering tools and processes needed to develop and integrate the avionics on FVL.
“Collins Aerospace has been a pioneer in open systems architecture for more than 30 years, such as CAAS avionics for the Army’s Special Operations fleet in 2001 and other pathfinder programs leading the way for OSA-based avionics upgrades on over 20 different aircraft types,” said Dave Schreck, vice president and general manager for Military Avionics and Helicopters at Collins Aerospace. “We know our history of innovation will be beneficial in reducing the overall lifecycle costs and risks associated with this next-generation fleet of vertical lift platforms.”
The JMR TD phase will inform the Army’s requirements for the FVL program.
Sikorsky Boeing Sb>1 Defiant, the concept helicopter could replace the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter and the UH-60 Blackhawk transport helicopter with a common design that is faster, has a longer range, is more maneuverable, and is quieter than previous helicopters. SB>1 DEFIANT will be capable of performing tight assault formations, close proximity landing, unique hovering, high-speed and low-speed flights due to its large angular rates and precision attitude control capabilities.
The Defiant will have a top speed of 250+ knots air speed, which translates to 287 miles an hour (463km/h). That’s more than a hundred miles an hour faster than the UH-60M Blackhawk transport, which tops out at 183 miles an hour. 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.
Defiant also has an unspecified longer range and the ability to perform at higher altitudes where the air is thinner. The aircraft will be capable of hover out of ground effect (HOGE) at an altitude of 6,000ft. It also has improved low-speed maneuverability, which will be particularly useful in urban environments. It will have greater expeditionary range and endurance and will have the capability to carry heavier payloads compared to the present generation rotorcraft. The forward thrust offered by the pusher propulsor will enable the aircraft to rapidly displace itself from the flight path in high-threat environments.
Sikorsky-Boeing demonstrator, called the SB>1 Defiant, uses a coaxial rotor system configuration. This is a design structure, referred to as a compound configuration, which relies upon two counter-rotating rotor blades on top of the aircraft and a thrusting mechanism in the rear. “To make a rotorcraft go fast you have to off-load the rotor lift onto something else or else you run into problems when you try to reduce the speed of that rotor. Typically, you do that with a wing but Sikorsky-Boeing came up with a lift-offset design,” Bailey added.
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.
The pusher-prop on the back of the aircraft is a small propeller behind the counter-rotating rotor heads. It is what can give the aircraft airplane-like speeds. The blades’ pitch is variable to maximize thrust and perform quietly at high speed. It operates with what’s called positive and negative pitch, allowing the aircraft to lean up or down and move both forwards and backwards, Boeing officials have said.
The fuselage of Defiant will be made of composite materials for achieving superior strength and weight reductions. It will integrate a retractable type landing gear for less drag during flight.Its rotor blades will be made from composite material, which will reduce vibrations and minimise wear of the components, while providing greater life and reduced maintenance costs. The aircraft will also be equipped with the active vibrator control technology to dampen the vibrations from the rotors and deliver smooth lift and manoeuvrability.
SB>1 DEFIANT will feature a rotorcraft equipped with a fly-by-wire system, which can control the rotors, pusher propulsor, rudders, and elevators. Each rotor blade actuator will be connected to the fly-by-wire technology to avoid any potential mechanical losses. The active rudder and elevator controls can change the flight path of the aircraft with greater agility and ease. The aircraft will also have options to employ weapons during all modes of flight.
Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft
The company is offering its V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft to the Pentagon for its Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programme to replace legacy helicopter technology beginning in the 2030s. The concept aircraft advances the design of the V-22, the first tiltrotor aircraft flown by Marine Corps and Air Force, according to Vince Tobin, vice president of Advanced Tiltrotor Systems for Bell Helicopter. Bell Helicopter is working to make next-generation tiltrotor technology more affordable for the military, company CEO John Garrison said at the Association of the US Army’s annual conference in Washington, DC.
Bell’s fact sheet on the V-280 indicates it could carry four crew and 14 passengers, with a range of up to 800 nautical miles, beating the Black Hawk’s range by nearly 500 miles. That would make the V-280 especially suited to evacuating injured soldiers. This will carry a squad of Army soldiers, or a squad of Marines, to an assault area faster and increase the lethality compared to the V-22 [Osprey], which is a larger platform and more of a utility aircraft,” said Jeff Schloesser, a retired Army major general and executive vice president of strategic pursuits for Bell’s Washington operations.
The V-280 also has the advantage of being able to travel on its own to conflict zones and land in inhospitable terrain. For one-way trips, the plane’s range goes up to 2,100 nautical miles, making the V-280 “strategically self-deployable,” or independent of massive transport vehicles. At “500 to 800 nautical miles … it increases your survivability,” he said. “You don’t have to stop for FARPs [forward air refuelling points], and the speed in which you go over a hostile zone is twice as fast.”
Bell’s Valor will come in both an armed and an assault version. The V-280 isn’t designed for ship launches, but in a pinch, takeoff from the deck of a carrier would be possible. “The V280 is indeed a combat aircraft, capable of assault, attack,” Woodward said. “It’s marinized, so it can work in sea environments.” Bell communications manager Andy Woodward told Business Insider.
“The warfighter needs speed, range, and payload; this is what the customer is saying they need,” company CEO John Garrison said during a press briefing. “But they also need sustainability, reliability, and affordability. A lot of the technology development works towards hitting the important goal of affordability.”
Garrison added that the Pentagon can save on support infrastructure requirements if it chooses Bell’s V-280 for FVL because the aircraft is so fast. “With V-280 technology, you’d need one or maybe two [forward refuelling bases] to cover the same territory and distance” for which legacy helicopters need 10-11 refuelling points. “Think of the support infrastructure you save by not needing that,” he added.
In 2019 alone, Team Valor and the V-280 program team have delivered performance milestones beyond expectations. 2019 milestones include:
Speed > 300 kts
Hover Out of Ground Effect (HOGE) > 6,000 feet altitude at 95º F
Low speed agility to meet the Army’s Level 1 Handling Qualities requirements
Executed numerous, consecutive multi-sortie days of flight operations
Test flights with Army pilots
Jeffrey Schloesser, executive vice president of strategic pursuits at Bell, said the V-280 was making signifcant progress during flight tests. “What we’re looking forward to now is continuing to demonstrate the agility of the aircraft,” he said during an interview at Bell’s Advanced Vertical Lift Center in Arlington, Virginia. “We’ve done pirouettes down the runway and stuff like that.”
Flight testing did not simply focus on demonstrating engineering maneuvers. The team understands the V-280 must be suitable for use in multi-domain operations as well. To that end, the V-280 has integrated the Lockheed Martin Pilotage Distributed Aperture System (PDAS) mission equipment package and has flown operationally focused tests showing fast rope deployment options. Looking forward, testing will include additional mission equipment package integration, sling load tests and a demonstration of autonomous flight.
Lockheed Martin tests Pilotage Distributed Aperture Sensor system set for V-280 flight testing
Lockheed Martin flight tested its pilotage distributed aperture sensor (PDAS) on the V-280 in 2019. PDAS is a multi-function sensor system for vertical lift aircraft that generates and fuses high-resolution, 360-degree real-time imagery with a goal reminiscent of the sensor suite and data fusion on Lockheed’s F-35. Ultimately working with the company’s multi-modal sensor fusion (MMSF) system, PDAS is intended to improve situational awareness for pilots and let them share that data. These tests have demonstrated the ability of the integrated PDAS system to generate 360° imagery around the aircraft from the suite of integrated sensors in a flight environment and deliver it to the pilot.
PDAS consists of six integrated infrared (IR) imaging sensors, an open-architecture processor (OAP), and one or more helmet-mounted displays to provide pilots with enhanced situational awareness and threat warning capabilities. In 2018, the company conducted PDAS installation checkouts and integration tests on the V-280. Looking into next year, the company said it anticipates system flight tests at a Bell facility to “capture” 360° imagery
Next year Lockheed Martin will also be integrating additional capabilities into the PDAS system, including a ground moving target indicator (GMTI) to automatically identify and track moving ground targets, and an IR search and track (IRST) capability to automatically identify and track airborne targets. Plans also call for the eventual integration of a point and scene track capability, and a multi-modal sensor fusion (MMSF) that “blends data from multiple sensors to restore the pilot’s situational awareness in degraded visual environments”, Botwinik said. The latter technology, he added, will help pilots navigate in “GPS-denied zones”.
Lockheed Martin is developing PDAS with the Future Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft and Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft platforms “in mind”, Botwinik explained. Over the past two years, he added, the company has been working with the US Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD) to conduct PDAS flight tests on a Black Hawk.
“These flights enabled us to complete safety of flight qualification and demonstrate PDAS airworthiness and maturity of capabilities like real-time image stitching,” Botwinik told Jane’s . In addition to PDAS integration on the V-280, Botwinik said the company is working with Sikorsky to integrate the sensor technology on “additional developmental aircraft”, while the technology is also “suitable” for integration on current fleet aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Unprecedented flight performance is only part of the equation for FLRAA to be a successful program. Bell continues to analyze and test options to improve future fleet affordability and sustainment lifecycle cost. The team has undertaken initiatives to address cost-drivers inherent in operational aircraft by employing the latest digital technologies to optimize affordability throughout the fleet’s lifecycle.