The success of the Army’s revolutionary new rotorcraft will depend on open architecture software standards that can be rapidly reconfigured as much if not more than on the aircraft design, according to industry and government officials leading the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) effort.

FVL will eventually result in a family of futuristic helicopters with a baseline design that is then scaled to perform attack, utility and heavy-lift missions. Before that program of record gets underway, the ongoing Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program will validate both the aircraft and subsystem technologies on which FVL will be based.

Through a series of increasingly complex demonstration and test events, the Army and industry teams will validate both the air worthiness of two basic aircraft designs while a parallel effort polishes the common mission and avionics systems that will operate both. It is that series of software architecture demonstrations that will ultimately determine the success of the program and the distance FVL will leap Army capabilities into the future, said Dan Bailey, JMR/FVL program director at the Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development And Engineering Center (AMRDEC).

Bell V-280 Valor concept art. (Bell Helicopter)
Bell V-280 Valor concept art. (Bell Helicopter)

 “The architecture is not only as important [as the air vehicle], it’s more important in a lot of ways,” Bailey said Friday during a forum on FVL hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “The air vehicles we have out there today have been out there for a long time, they will be out there for a long time. … We’re going to need capabilities for the war fighter on a very rapid acquisition perspective.”

“The way we can get after that is open systems architecture,” he added. “We want to give the Future Vertical Lift initial program, and therefore the family of systems after that, a set of standards, processes, tools – an implementation guide, if you will.”

Ryan Bunge, manager of Air Force and advanced rotorwing programs at Rockwell Collins [COL], is heading up the mission system architecture demonstration, or MSAD. Industry has understood open systems architectures and their advantages for some time, but only in recent years has begun to arrive at solid definitions for what it means to design open systems, he said. Heavily software-dependent programs like FVL are forcing industry to adopt modular, open systems approaches to software and hardware development, he said.

“What we see is really over the last five years or so industry has started to coalesce around some more firm definitions of what open systems means. You’re starting to see that in the codification of technical standards like FACE – the Future Airborne Capabilities Environment.”

By proving architectural concepts through continuous demonstration and the implementation of model-based engineering and virtual integration, Rockwell has been able to reduce risk in designing the FVL mission system interface. While the physical air vehicle resulting from JMR likely won’t change for another 50 years, its mission systems will be almost continually reconfigured, upgraded and enhanced throughout the aircraft’s service life.

“The technology that is going to be brought to bear from an air vehicle perspective is really game changing, but it’s going to be the technology that our forces ultimately fly for the next 50 years,” Bunge said. “Those mission systems are going to iterate multiple times during the lifetime of these air vehicles. What we’re really pushing towards is validating the design requirements so it will be that digital backbone that is an enduring mission system in which we can rapidly introduce new capabilities as the pace of change continues to accelerate in the future.”


Two teams are approaching JMR, and subsequently FVL, from two fundamentally different airframe design and propulsion angles. Boeing [BA] is teamed with Sikorsky, which is now owned by Lockheed Martin [LMT], in developing the SB-1 Defiant, an evolutionary version of Sikorsky’s X-2 technology that uses rigid coaxial rotors and a tail pusher prop. The team is building its first SB-1 air vehicle while simultaneously constructing a propulsion-system test bed. Defiant is a scaled-up version of the S-97 Raider that is in the middle of a two-year flight test campaign.

Bell Helicopter [TXT] and a unit of Lockheed Martin firewalled from its Sikorsky subsidiary are offering a third-generation tiltrotor called the V-280 Valor. The first demonstrator air vehicle is 65 percent complete and scheduled to fly by September 2017.

Chris Van Buiten, vice president of innovation at Sikorsky, said open architecture software standards will allow FVL to optionally manned.

To demonstrate, he said the computing capacity required to automate a Black Hawk helicopter in 2000 would have taken up the entire crew cabin and a quarter of the aircraft payload. A few years later, the computer processors needed to perform the same operations took only a single rack and by 2013 was down to the size of a microwave oven. In 2016, the same processing hardware fits in half that space and has double the core processors.

“That change is only possible by adopting open systems and embracing commercial advances in technology and creating architectures that let you fold in the latest hardware, software and algorithms,” Van Buiten said. “That’s going to be the power of open architecture systems.”

Rockwell’s flight control suite will include a “capability applications page” much like an iPhone, that will allow on-demand adaptation of the aircraft to all different kinds of flight regimes and modes like minimum noise signature and automated terrain following and automated cargo logistics missions with no pilots on board.

“These kinds of applications will be enabled by open systems, the software algorithms, hardware, sensing, computation that supports these apps and constantly grows and infuses new ones into the Future Vertical Lift platform will be enabled by open architecture systems,” Van Buiten said.

Defense Daily hosts the 2016 Open Architecture Summit on Oct. 18 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. More information on the agenda and registration is available at