As the U.S. Army moves forward on the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) is highlighting its reputation as a systems integrator.
SNC is “well postured to provide critical support to the Army’s full range of effort that comprises the Future Vertical Lift program: the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), future ISR platforms, the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), and all these systems operating under a modular open systems approach that the Army is now calling MOSA,” Paul Bontrager, SNC’s vice president of government affairs, told reporters this week in a conference call in advance of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) annual conference.
“Up to this point, to read about the Army’s Future Vertical Lift discussion, all the talk is centered on the aircraft design, the capability, and requirements of those aircraft, those air frames, such as airspeed, range, payload and size,” Bontrager said. “While these are interesting, some would argue that it only describes a portion of the problem. The more difficult problem is assuring that the most cutting edge mission equipment technology and capabilities are integrated into these air frames to make sure that by the time we field these aircraft, they’re not obsolete. This is where Sierra Nevada is well-suited to step in.”
Bontrager suggested that FVL avionics capabilities would help reduce Army aviation fatalities.
“The basic premise of Future Vertical Lift aircraft is to leverage technology so instead of having a human operator next to all of the flight and mission tasks while using technology only for a few of the basic tasks, these new aircraft will use technology to execute virtually all of the missions, while the human remains in an assistant monitoring role, only stepping in when needed to fine tune the aircraft’s systems,” he said. “So it’s a complete reversal of the way we use technology and humans. As an aviator, I’m excited and inspired to see this. I’ve seen way too many of our fellow aviators perish on the battlefield often due to human error, but primarily because we put them in a situation that’s untenable.”
Dean Heitkamp, SNC’s senior director of business development, said that Degraded Visual Environment (DVE) has factored into about 30 percent of Army helicopter mishaps.
While aircrews have traditionally relied on training, tactics, techniques and procedures to ameliorate DVE, mishaps under such conditions continue, and “there’s a demonstrated need for a material solution,” he said.
For the last 16 years, SNC has invested in modular DVE solutions that include the use of sensors and multi-sensor fusion processing to provide landing and en-route capabilities using real time fusion of active and passive sensors for high quality high-resolution imagery applicable to heads-down, heads-up, or helmet-mounted display; obstacle protection proximity alerts; and navigation aids in GPS-denied or degraded environments, according to Heitkamp.
Other SNC capabilities that apply to FVL include autonomous take-off and landing; autonomous aerial refueling; and SNC’s Common Open Backplane Reconfigurable Architecture (COBRA). The latter, originally developed for signals intelligence purposes, will enable FVL to achieve the required modular open systems architecture, as COBRA is a “high maturity open architecture for third party apps,” Heitkamp said.