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Saturday, October 1, 2011

AH-6 Meets Projected U.S. Army AAS Requirements

By Douglas Nelms

Reporters get a first-hand look at the Boeing AH-6i during a recent tour of company facilities in Mesa, Ariz. For more see “All Change for the Better at Boeing,” August 2011 Rotor & Wing, page 36.
 Photo by Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor

Boeing has now achieved all of its self-imposed milestones in preparing the AH-6 for the Army’s much-anticipated Aerial Attack Scout helicopter competition.

According to Mike Burke, Boeing’s director for attack helicopter business development, the company has completed the Systems Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase and is almost through the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase.

The only remaining part of the EMD would be to integrate any additional Army requirements that would come out of the anticipated RFD for the AAS program.

“If they say it must have Level II to Level IV UAV (requirements), then the EMD phase will be used to demonstrate the Level IV capability,” Burke said. “If they have a requirement for a different sensor over and above what we have already integrated into the aircraft, those are the little things you have to do for the EMD phase. So this aircraft is in a position to execute an accelerated EMD phase and then offer a flying prototype for a fly-off quicker than the two main competitors.”

Burke cited Bell’s OH-58 Block II and EADS’ AAS-72X as its primary competitors in the upcoming requirement for an AAS.

Boeing is offering the AH-6i, or international version of the aircraft, as its entry in the AAS competition. However, if the Army asks for a longer cabin, a 16” plug could be inserted into the cabin, turning the model into the stretched AH-6i/s. Boeing currently has a prototype AH-6i flying and has demonstrated it to international customers such as Jordan, Dubai “and a couple of others,” Burke noted. The company has not yet flown the AH-6s, but could develop and build the model very quickly if required, he said. He added that the decision to build the AH-6i was made in February 2009, with first flight occurring seven months later in September 2009. The AH-6i does not currently have Level IV capability to allow the pilots to communicate with and control UAVs because Boeing is not allowed to sell that capability to foreign customers. However, based the on the Army’s requirement, it could quickly be integrated into the system if necessary, Burke said. The AH-6 mission computer is designed to accept 83 percent of the software designed for the Apache Block III, and the Apache Block III “has already demonstrated Level IV UAV control,” he explained.

Burke also noted that all the avionics on the aircraft are military qualified, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) and compliant with the U.S. Department of State’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), “so we don’t have to have a special waiver from the U.S. government to sell this [to international customers].”

The cockpit of the AH-6i is 100 percent integrated, with all of the weapons systems, sensors, flight instruments and maps, and navigation systems shown on two multi-function displays. This allows the avionics to fit into a very small space in the nose, with the target acquisition and surveillance sensors directly below them.

“So we have more processing power in a smaller footprint than on any other helicopter in the world except for the Apache Block III,” Burke said. “Moving all that stuff to the nose actually improved the center of gravity and the handling of the aircraft.” Boeing feels that the AH-6i already fits most of the requirements that will be issued for the AAS RFP, including the weapons capability. Burke said that they have already fired the Hellfire missile, the GAU 50-cal. machine gun, the M-134D miniguns, the M-260 seven-shot rocket pod firing the Hydra 70 multipurpose 2.75” rockets and laser-guided rockets. Weapons are fired from four pylons mounted on the sides of the fuselage. The aircraft has demonstrated its capability to hover out of ground effect at 7,500 feet, 95 degrees F at 3,722 lbs with a full load of weapons—above the standard 6K/95 required by the Army. Maximum gross weight for the aircraft is around 4,700 lbs, although the combination of weapons plus fuel “doesn’t get close to 4,700,” he said. “You are right around 3,900 to 4,000 lbs, and at that weight, the aircraft is very maneuverable and has great endurance.”

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