The U.S. Army’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program passed through the Army Requirements Oversight Council and received preliminary approval to set the capabilities development.
In replacing the UH-60 Blackhawk, the Army looks to modernize its aircrafts vertical lift capability. The idea is to complement the Army’s air assault mission and ability to move tactical level troops into and out of combat.
Brigadier General Wally Rugen told Defense News that, “we really are focused on our air assault mission configuration and what that means for the number of troops that would need to be aboard and what requirements are needed to conduct that mission in darkness. Otherwise, the FLRAA program won’t have a ton of mandatory attributes in order to leave a lot of space for innovation as long as we achieve that air assault mission configuration.”
“[When] it comes to joint when it comes to fires when it comes to the tactical objective, the air movement — which is a bit more administrative in nature and not as intense on the combat scale — when we talk about air assault, we want transformational reach,” Rugen added. “That ability to exploit any penetration and disintegration that the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft ecosystem, along with our joint partners has created.”
The two main competitors for the FLRAA are the Bell V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft and the combination of Sikorsky and Boeing with their SB-1 Defiant coaxial helicopter. Each entry will submit proposals within the first half of next year with eyes toward a contract award in fiscal 2022 for the winning prototype. Prototypes would be delivered in early-to-mid 2026, with production beginning in 2028 and the new aircraft being fielded in 2030.
The Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant is a compound helicopter with rigid coaxial rotors. It is powered by two Honeywell T55s, and a pusher propeller in the rear of the aircraft. These give it a 115 mph speed advantage (100 knots) over the conventional helicopters it aims to replace.
Sikorsky is planning on replacing the T55 engines, which power the Chinook helicopters, with the Future Affordable Turbine Engine (FATE) to meet the radius requirement of 264 miles, (424 km). The crew compartment is 50 percent larger than the current Blackhawk helicopters. Recently in a test flight, the aircraft hit a speed of 205 knots, with a planned top speed of 230 knots which is the requirement and even up to 250 knots according to the company.
“Exceeding 200 knots is significant also because it’s beyond any conventional helicopter speed, and we understand that speed and low-level maneuverability is critical to the holistic survivability in a future FVL environment,” Jay Macklin, Sikorsky’s Director of Future Vertical Lift Business Development said back in June.
Bell Helicopter’s V-280 Valor design is designed for a cruising speed of 280 knots (320 mph), hence the name V-280. It can reach a top speed of 300 knots (350 mph).
The maximum range of the V-280 is 2,100 nautical miles (2,400 mi). It has an effective combat range of 500 to 800 nmi (580 to 920 mi), which is nearly 1500 KM.
Unlike the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, the engines remain in place while the rotors and drive shafts tilt. A driveshaft runs through the straight wing, allowing both prop rotors to be driven by a single-engine in the event of engine loss.
The V-280 has retractable landing gear, a triple-redundant flyby wire control system, and a V-tail configuration. The wings are made of a single section of carbon fiber reinforced polymer composite thus reducing weight and production costs. Dual cargo hooks will give it a lift capacity to carry a 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) M777A2 Howitzer while flying at a speed of 150 knots (170 mph; 280 km/h). The fuselage is visually similar to that of the UH-60 Black Hawk medium-lift helicopter. The V-280 will have a crew of four and be capable of transporting up to 14 troops. In July, Rolls-Royce confirmed an agreement with Bell to develop a propulsion option for the Bell V-280 Valor tiltrotor program.