Imagine a program in which the U.S. 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 helicopter that would have the endurance to cross an entire ocean: the Comanche Stealth Helicopter.
The Boeing–Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche was an advanced five-blade armed reconnaissance and attack helicopter designed for the U.S. 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 modernize aviation in the Army. However, the RAH-66 program was canceled in 2004 before mass production began, after nearly $7 billion was spent on the program, according to Time.
The Army said the Comanche Stealth Helicopter wouldn’t be able to keep up with ever-changing operational environments. They then decided it would be better to reallocate funds from the Comanche program to streamline Army aviation programs.
Check out the video of the Comanche below:
Planning for the Comanche 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. In three years, a contract was signed with Boeing-Sikorsky.
While the plan seemed great, technically none of the Comanches were ever built. 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 percent of the Army’s annual aviation budget.
In the end, the Comanche project failed because its intended combat environment became less likely, and the costs were too great to justify it.