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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Army Completes VFD Phase of AAS Program

The U.S. Army has completed the antepenultimate phase of its competition for a new Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) helicopter to replace the venerable OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. Three of the key players in the competition—Bell, Boeing and EADS North America—demonstrated to the Army what their respective aircraft can do in recent weeks during a series of voluntary flight demonstrations (VFDs) designed to show the Army what it can get for the money it can spend. This follows AgustaWestland’s participation this summer with the AW139M demonstrator (the manufacturer plans to offer the AW169). MD Helicopters has also proposed its MD540F (see sidebar on page 25). Sikorsky said that it participated through a series of briefings and flights in its S-97 Raider simulator.

A meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board will follow the VFDs to develop a defense acquisition strategy. “That strategy covers a range of alternatives, but principally it is either to continue the course it is on, which is to keep the minimal capability that they have and maintain it for a period to time until the (current) asset can be replaced in its entirety, or (to) select a competitive alternative that in the near term could be ready for production to replace older assets that have been operating as diligently as they have,” according to Sean O’Keefe, Chairman and CEO of EADS North America.

Development of that strategy is expected to lead to the final competition for the new AAS. The idea for flight demonstrations was announced last year, but with emphasis that this was not a competitive fly-off. It was strictly a “show us what we can get for what we can afford” on the part of the U.S. Army.

The Army issued its Request for Information earlier this year, with the manufacturers following up with their responses. Those responses were then followed with meetings between industry and a team of around 30 to 40 representatives from some seven agencies.

Dave Haines, vice president of rotorcraft programs for EADS North America, told reporters prior to the AUSA meeting in Washington that they had responded in mid-summer to the Army’s RFI with “about 1,100 pages of very detailed data. The Army will tell you that (the RFI) was just a market survey. This was not just a market survey.”

The EADS-NA response was followed up by “an oral discussion with the customer,” including the Aviation Engineering Directorate (AED), during a visit to American Eurocopter’s UH-72A assembly plant in Columbus, Miss., according to Haines. Assembly of the AAS-72X, if selected, will also be done at the Columbus facility alongside the UH-72A.

The purpose of the meetings was to validate the information EADS-NA had provided in its response to the RFI, “and we wanted them to be very comfortable with where we thought we were and understand the detail, the data and our assessment of where we thought we were.” The idea of an Army study team sitting down across the table from industry officials to discuss what the Army needed, what it could afford and what industry could provide was “a step outside the traditional mold,” Haines noted. Traditionally, the Army simply states its requirements and expects industry to meet those requirements, with the low-cost competitor getting the contract.

The AAS-72X is a joint program with EADS North America as prime contractor and Lockheed Martin as the integrator at the Lockheed Martin Systems Integration Lab in Orlando, Fla. This includes weapon systems and sensors, the navigation/communication package, and mission management computers and software.

These meetings were followed by the VFD, which started this fall. For its VFD, EADS-NA flew two demonstration aircraft out to Alamosa, Colo. For demonstrations held from Sept. 24 to Oct. 3. The two aircraft included the AAS-72X, which is an armed version of the highly successful UH-72A Lakota now being flown by the active Army and Army National Guard units. The UH-72A, in turn, is the militarized version of the EC145. The second aircraft, dubbed the AAS-72X+, was the EC145T2, basically the EC145 with an upgraded Turbomeca Arriel 2E dual FADEC engine and a Fenestron anti-torque system. The Arriel 2E engine increases maximum takeoff weight from 7,903 lbs on the 72X to 8,267 lbs for the 72X+. Turbomeca’s Arriel 1E2 powers the 72X.

EADS-NA held its VFD at Alamosa because of the high altitude in order to showcase the hot/high capabilities of the aircraft, Haines said. Elevation is around 7,500 feet, with mountain peaks reaching to 14,000 feet.

EADS-NA had already taken an EC145 to Alamosa in July 2009, weighted to the anticipated weight of the Army’s AAS weapons mission equipment package (MEP), to show that its ability to operate at those altitudes in hot weather. It very easily met the Army’s “6K/95” requirement, or the ability to hover out of ground effect (HOGE) at 6,000 feet at 95 degrees F at maximum gross weight. Haines also noted that during the VFD the aircraft hovered out of ground effect at 14,000 feet at just under MGTOW.

The “6K/95” requirement was one all of the competitors were able to prove during their respective VFDs. While the Army has not put out specific requirements for the weapons MEP, the manufacturers are outfitting their AAS entries with weapons such as the M260 Hydra rocket launchers holding seven 2.75-inch folding fin aerial rockets, both GAU-19 50 cal. and 7.62 mm mini-guns, other heavy 50 cal. machine guns such as the M3P and Hellfire missiles. It will also be required to have a highly capable target acquisition and designation system.

The two EADS North America aircraft accumulated more than 20 hours during the two-week period, with American Eurocopter pilots, active Army combat experienced pilots and Army experimental pilots and engineers taking the controls.

Flight tests were done to ADS-33 standards, the performance specification handling qualities requirements for military rotorcraft. “It is a number of helicopter maneuver normally done at sea level, but we did it in a high and hot environment. And the results speak for themselves,” Haines said.

Following the VFD, EADS-NA also conducted a tour with the AAS-72X, visiting four U.S. Army facilities—Fort Riley, home of the 1st Infantry Division; Fort Hood, home of the 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division, and Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne Division and XVIII Airborne Corps. Completion of the tour was timed to coincide with the beginning of this year’s AUSA meeting in Washington, D.C.

EADS was the only one of the four competitors to take its demonstration aircraft away from its home facility.

Bell began its VFD on Oct. 22 at its facility in Fort Worth, Texas, using an OH-58 Block II demonstration aircraft. The OH-58 Block II had already achieved the 6K/95 requirement last spring, exceeding its maximum gross weight of 5,500 lbs during flight trials in Colorado. The Block II aircraft was developed in Bell’s Xworx research and development facility in Fort Worth, Texas, with first flight on April 14, 2011. The Block II aircraft replaces the 650-shp Rolls-Royce T703-AD-700A engine with the 970-shp Honeywell HTS900. It will also have upgraded transmission and rotor systems taken from the Bell 407, as well as cockpit and sensor upgrades under the OH-58F CASUP program.

A Bell spokesperson stated that the demonstration aircraft was not flying with any weapons mounted on it, although it did have the sensor ball profile on the nose to represent the weight and dimensions of the real thing. Bell said that since the Army is already flying the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, the Block II aircraft “will blend seamlessly” into the existing Army supply chain, training and procurement system “without the expensive disruption caused by a completely new airframe.” By employing the Block modernization concept, Bell said that it can deliver “a helicopter that meets or exceeds today’s requirements while providing a clear roadmap for future upgrades as well.”

Boeing conducted its VFD at its production facility in Mesa, Ariz., using a single AH-6. It flew approximately 10 flight hours and accomplished all flight requirements, the company said.

Mike Burke, Boeing’s director of attack helicopter business development, noted that maximum gross weight of the aircraft is around 4,700 lbs, “and if you put a combination of missiles, rockets, and machine guns, plus the ammunition and fuel, you don’t even get close to 4,700 lbs. You’re right around 3,900 to 4,000 lbs. And at that weight, the aircraft is very maneuverable and has great endurance.

Sikorsky does not currently have a flying demonstrator, but is offering the S-97 Raider as its entry in the AAS competition. A Sikorsky spokesman said the manufacturer had conducted numerous in-depth briefings with the evaluating agencies, with combat experienced pilots “as well as experimental test pilots and engineers” flying the S-97 simulator.

The S-97 is being built based on technology developed through Sikorsky’s experimental X2 program. The X2 is a high-speed rotorcraft that has already flown in excess of 250 kts.

“We believe this next-generation rotorcraft will give Army Aviation a decisive edge on the battlefield through 2060,” the spokesman said.

MD540F Flight Evaluation

Mesa, Ariz.-based MD Helicopters is looking to increase its presence in the military helicopter market with its MD540F, which can either be categorized as a militarized version of the company’s civilian MD500 line, or the next generation of the Boeing AH-6 Little Bird attack helicopter. (The AH-6 was an MD product until the sale of its design rights to Boeing several years ago.) The end product is a body style that looks very similar to its single-engine predecessors, but with a variety of upgrades to its powerplant, rotor system, avionics and other select systems.  Although it is still technically under development, MD invited Rotor & Wing for a hands-on evaluation the MD540F, which is being offered for the Army’s AAS competition. Editor-at-Large Ernie Stephens took the company up on its offer to learn about the aircraft and put it through its paces. The result is a comprehensive technical briefing provided by the designers, as well an appraisal of its handling characteristics and flight systems.Look for a complete report on the MD540F in the January 2013 issue of Rotor & Wing, including an inspection of its 50-year bloodline, its recent upgrades, and how it feels in the hands of a pilot. —By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large

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