It’s really astounding to imagine a program in which the US government would spend $7 billion dollars just to decide whether or not to go through with doing it. That’s the story about a very powerful and promising reconnaissance and attack helicopter: the Comanche Stealth Helicopter. A helicopter that would have the endurance to cross an entire ocean.
The Boeing–Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche was an advanced five-blade armed reconnaissance and attack helicopter designed for the United States Army. The Comanche would incorporate stealth technologies, featuring a number of designs previously untried. It was to employ advanced sensors in its reconnaissance role and was intended to designate targets for the AH-64 Apache. The aircraft was also armed with missiles and rockets to destroy armored vehicles.
The initial plan was for the Army to replace older and less effective helicopters with the Comanche, “to bring the Army aviation into the 21st century” but the RAH-66 program was canceled in 2004, before mass production began, after nearly US$7 billion was spent on the program, according to Time.
The Army said the Comanche Stealth Helicopter “would not meet the requirements of changing operational environments,” Air Force Technology stated. The Army decided it would be better to reallocate funds from the Comanche program to streamline Army aviation programs.
Some back story on the Comanche is the planning for it started in 1982, under the Reagan administration and in the prime of the Cold War. After some six years of planning, the Army invited manufacturers to show them what they could do and in three years a contract was signed with Boeing-Sikorsky.
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While the plan seemed great, technically none of the Comanches were ever built, but why? It seems the engines weren’t quite capable of generating enough power to get the heavy Comanche into flight. There were other factors that made the helicopter too risky and challenging, like “software integration and testing of mission equipment, weight reduction, radar signatures, antenna performance, gun system performance, and aided target detection algorithm performance,” Time stated.
With all the issues concerning the helicopter, delivery was going to be delayed and that wasn’t a viable option either. The Army planned to purchase the Comanches in 1996 but none were available still in 1997. In the midst of the conflict in Afghanistan, that wasn’t going to work. In addition, the Comanche project was expected to devour more than 40% of the Army’s annual aviation budget. Dr. James Williams, author of the 2005 book, “A History Of Army Aviation,” “the battlefield for which Comanche was designed had grown less probable.”