Several new designs and concepts for the US Army’s Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) were revealed during the Army Aviation Association of America’s (AAAA) annual convention in Fort Worth, Texas, between April 14-17.
The US Army is due to decide within a fortnight whether to pursue a manned or unmanned solution, or combination of both, for its AAS program, which picks up from the cancelled Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program, won by Bell with its troubled ARH-70 (a militarised Bell 407), to find a replacement for its ageing fleet of Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warriors.
Sikorsky used the convention to unveil its X2 Light Tactical Helicopter (LTH) concept, an enlarged version of its X2 counter-rotating coaxial rotor pusher demonstrator featuring a side-by-side front cockpit, nose mounted FLIR, retractable tricycle landing gear and mid-fuselage weapons pylons. A full scale mock-up was the centrepiece of Sikorsky’s display at the four day convention.
Sikorsky is hopeful the X2 LTH concept will be validated by the time the Army makes its decision during 2011 on whether to pursue a new aircraft like the X2 or to go with an in-production aircraft to replace its OH-58Ds.
“Using the X2 technology features we are flying now on our demonstrator aircraft, we believe the LTH will be able to operate at altitudes and airspeeds no conventional helicopter can match,” said Scott Starrett, president of Sikorsky Military Systems. “It offers potential manoeuvrability and survivability that will dramatically improve the way Army aviation conducts combat operations.”
Sikorsky is also collaborating with the US Army to develop an optionally piloted Black Hawk demonstrator. Sikorsky Innovations plans to fly a prototype by year’s end with optionally piloted Black Hawks available for introduction into service by 2015.
Continuing with the coaxial rotor pusher theme, Fort Worth based AVX Aircraft Company unveiled radical plans to offer a coaxial rotor and pusher conversion of existing OH-58Ds. This would see the OH-58D’s mast-mounted sight, rotor head and blades, transmission and tail boom replaced with a coaxial rotor head and blades, new transmission, rotating controls and mast, and new short tailboom with pusher fans.
AVX says the conversion would improve hover performance, give an airspeed of up to 120kt, reduce noise due to the removal of the tail rotor, and offer the ability to carry out a nose-down approach to reduce brownout. The cost of the conversion is estimated at between US$1.2 and 1.5 million per helicopter.
AVX is seeking US$30 million to fund a concept demonstrator and is talking with the Army, Department of Defense and Congress, as well as to several major defence companies on a possible partnerings on the program.
On the conventional front, EADS North America announced that subsidiary American Eurocopter has teamed with Lockheed Martin to independently fund and develop three AAS-72X armed UH-72A Lakota/EC145 demonstrators. In addition Lockheed Martin has established a high fidelity systems integration lab for the helicopter’s mission equipment package at its Orlando, Florida, facility.
“It is part of a low risk approach that combines mature, developed technologies with the proven UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter which is in widespread service with the US Army,” said EADS North America CEO Sean O’Keefe.
The first AAS-72X technical demonstration aircraft is expected to be flying later this year and will be used for mission equipment and weapon system integration, performance testing and survivability validations.
Meanwhile Boeing is planning to offer two helicopters for the AAS program, a stretched version of its AH-6 Little Bird, dubbed the AH-6S Phoenix, as well as an aircraft reportedly nicknamed ‘Apache Lite’.