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Army narrows down Black Hawk helicopter replacement to 2 prototypes – now they’ll compete

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter hovers while a wall of fire burns during the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo combined arms demonstration at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, May 7, 2017. (Tech. Sgt. Nicole Szews/U.S. Air National Guard)
March 22, 2020

The U.S. Army has awarded competitive agreements to Bell Textron Inc. and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.-Boeing to develop the replacement for the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, called the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA).

Bell Textron’s V-280 advanced tiltrotor and the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 coaxial-rotor Defiant helicopter will compete to be the replacement, according to an announcement from the U.S. Army on Monday, Vertical Magazine reported. Both prototypes were developed under the Army’s Joint Multi Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) effort and will continue under the Competitive Demonstration and Risk Reduction (CD&RR) phase of the program.

“These agreements are an important milestone for FLRAA,” Army aviation program executive officer Patrick Mason said in a statement on Monday. “The CD&RR continues to transition technologies from the JMR-TD effort to the FLRAA weapons system design. We will be conducting analysis to refine the requirements, conceptual designs, and acquisition approach.” He continued, “Ultimately, this information and industry feedback are vital to understanding the performance, cost, affordability, schedule risks and trades needed to successfully execute the FLRAA program.”

These competitively awarded agreements will test risk reduction activities that, combined with input from industry partners, will inform the future development of the FLRAA weapons systems. A goal the service has set is to develop a Black Hawk replacement that can fly at speeds of more than 200 knots, or 230 miles per hour. Black Hawks fly at an average speed of 140 knots. The CD&RR phase will go until 2022 when the Army plans on selecting a winner to produce the FRAA.

Bell Textron’s V-280 demonstrated “its speed by flying above 300 knots,” or 345 mph, according to a statement released Monday evening by Bell Textron.

Bell vice president for advanced vertical lift systems Keith Flail called the partnership “an important milestone in the history of Bell and Army aviation” in a statement.

“We are honored to be part of it,” he added. “The next phase is an opportunity for this team to build on the success of the last six years and continue to bring the proof that we can provide transformative capabilities to our Army in line with their stated goal of 2030.”

Both prototypes have at least two vertical rotators, and  Sikorsky-Boeing conducted a demonstration for the Army on Feb. 20 to show the SB-1’s maneuverability.

“We are confident we will deliver a producible FLRAA aircraft that is survivable, affordable, sustainable and provides Army aviators strategic day one battlefield advantages,” Sikorsky Boeing officials said in a statement Monday evening.

Teamwork will play a major role in the decision process, according to Brig. Gen. Wally Rugen, director of the Army Future Command’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Cross-Functional Team.

“I’m very proud of the collaborative work done by this team of teams and excited about the award of the OTA agreements for the CD&RR efforts to continue burning down risk and setting conditions for the FLRAA program four year acceleration. We appreciate the support from Congress and Army Senior Leaders that postures FLRAA for a stable and executable program of record.” Rugen said.