Bell V280 Valor First Down Stop Flight
Amarillo, Texas May 11, 2018

The Army could have a speedy, long-range Black Hawk replacement within 10 years, provided the service sticks to its own schedule, as long as the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) comes in at about $40 million per copy, according to a request for information (RFI) from industry published April 4.

A contract for FLRAA should be awarded in late fiscal 2021 followed by a preliminary design review the following year, with a critical design review in fiscal 2024. First flight is to occur in the second half of fiscal 2024, the Army’s published program schedule says.

Whichever aircraft the Army chooses should come in at no more than $43 million a copy in 2018 dollars, according to the RFI.

For basic performance parameters, the Army is looking for a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft capable of 100 percent maximum continuous power to perform a 500 feet-per-minute vertical rate of climb from a hover out of ground effect at mission start, at an altitude of 6,000 feet on a 95-degree Fahrenheit day, with 12 passengers and sufficient fuel to achieve a 122 nm combat radius and a 30-minute reserve.

The Sikorsky-Boeing SB>1 DEFIANT™ helicopter achieved first flight March 21, 2019. With its two coaxial main rotors and rear-mounted pusher propulsor, DEFIANT is unlike production rotorcraft available today. Photo courtesy Sikorsky and Boeing.

A rundown of the Army’s other objective requirements includes:

  • 10-12 passengers, ideally 12 crash-resistant seats at least 23 inches wide;
  • 300 nautical mile unrefueled combat radius;
  • 2,440 nm one-way unrefueled range;
  • 280 knots maximum continuous cruise speed at max power;
  • Minimum 300 pounds cabin floor capacity per square foot with tie-downs capable of holding 5,000 pounds each;
  • External cargo hook with no less than 13,100 pounds capacity;
  • Capable of 200 flight hours in 60 days between scheduled field maintenance;
  • Structural engineering that will allow for installation of an in-flight refueling system; and
  • 92 percent operational readiness.

FLRAA is structured as a multi-service program with the Army in the lead and Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Marine Corps acquisition programs following about two years later. The RFI lays out specific requirements both for SOCOM and Marines.

Topping SOCOM’s bespoke list is structural engineering to allow for aerial refueling and installation of a probe, plumbing pumps and fuel management system so the aircraft can both give and receive gas in flight. A Special Operations variant also should fit inside a single C-17.

The Marine Corps is considering both a modified version of the Army’s FLRAA and a possible stand-alone derivative “if considered unfeasible or cost prohibitive to modify the Army variant,” according to the RFI. Proposals for the Marine Corps FLRAA should include both an attack and utility variant, of which the service plans to buy 349, the RFI says.

Most of the Marine-unique requirements relate to outfitting the aircraft against the harsh marine environments where they operate, like the “ability to operate in all weather conditions and … the ability to operate from and be based on all L-class ships and meet all ship suitability requirements.”

The Marine Corps wants an unrefueled combat radius of 450 nm with 30 minutes on station at maximum payload on various missions — attack, V-22 escort, utility, troop insertion — profiled in the document. The Marines also want a maximum continuous cruise speed of 295 knots at 90 percent power and a sprint speed of 330 knots.

Both the attack and utility version of the Marine Corps variant will be heavily armed or capable of carrying multiple offensive weapons, including a turreted or fixed gun system, Hellfire or Joint Air-to-Ground missiles, guided or unguided rockets and the ability to launch tactical unmanned aerial vehicles in flight.

The two most likely competitors for FLRAA are the operational prototype aircraft participating in the Army’s ongoing Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program. They are

Bell’s [TXT] V-280 Valor advanced tiltrotor and the Sikorsky [LMT]-Boeing [BA] SB-1 Defiant coaxial-rotor compound helicopter.

The Army has been granted $20 million to continue that work — Karem Aircraft and AVX also are involved — in its fiscal 2020 spending plan and included $75.6 million more on its list of unfunded priorities that would “expand” JMR and possibly quicken entry to a FLRAA competition. Plans are to choose up to three manufacturers to build competitive prototypes.