All across the military, there is a rapid push to modernize. From new weapons systems to fast-paced tactical vehicles and even augmented reality goggles, the U.S. Armed Forces are being catapulted headlong into the technologically-advanced battlefield of the 21st century. But for every piece of new technology, there are scores of mission-critical machines that are still largely analog. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the U.S. Army’s fleet of helicopters. 

Helicopters are at the heart of Army operations. From the load-bearing, double-rotored Chinook to the agile attack choppers such as the Cobra, Apache, and Little Bird, rotary-wing aircraft comprise a huge part of our military’s lethality and operational capabilities. But in a world of increasing focus on the virtual, Army helicopters represent an aging aspect of our war-fighting machine. 

Army Helicopters in Vietnam
UH-1D “Huey” Helicopters on a battlefield in Vietnam. (U.S. Army)

There have been huge advancements in rotary-wing technology since the infamous Bell UH-1 Iroquois, or Huey, first flew into combat in the Vietnam war. But while modern helicopters might make the Huey look like a flying tin can, they are still confined by the same basic limitations.

High on the list of limitations is gravity. Unlike fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters can’t glide if their engines fail or become disabled. Main engine and tail rotors are still extremely susceptible to enemy fire. Engines, which require clean air intake for proper combustion, can still be choked by dust and sand. And, like all largely analog machines, helicopters require frequent maintenance.