UCAR lives, but aircraft switch sides

In the defense industry, stuff goes around, comes around, then switches sides.

Last August, the US Navy rejected Northrop Grumman’s bid based on the MQ-8B Fire Scout for a contract to demonstrate autonomous resupply. Compared to the winning bidders — Boeing A160 Hummingbird and Kaman/Lockheed Martin K-MAX — the Fire Scout lacked cargo-carrying capacity.

Almost nine months later, Northrop showed up at the Navy League expo on Monday with Fire-X. It’s an unmanned version of the Bell Helicopter 407 helicopter, which can lift more than twice the Fire Scout payload.

That means a Northrop-backed an unmanned derivative Bell 407 will compete for sales against a Lockheed-backed, unmanned K-MAX. Right now, the competition is over cargo resupply contracts, but that can change.

Six years ago, unmanned 407 and K-MAX derivatives fiercely competed for a contract called Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft (UCAR), a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program that seems ambitious even today. If the US Army hadn’t yanked the funding in late 2004, UCARs were supposed to enter service in 2012, filling the skies with radar-evading, unmanned rotorcraft intended to tag-team on assault missions with Boeing AH-64 Apaches and the defunct Sikorsky/Boeing RAH-66 Comanche.

Back then, Lockheed was teamed up with Bell, which offered an unmanned 407 with a NOTAR-like propulsive anti-torque system. Northrop was aligned with Kaman, offering a KMAX-like unmanned helicopter with inter-meshing rotors.

Neither UCAR airframe would enter service, but the program’s underlying technology breakthrough — manned/unmanned teaming — is very much alive. The army simply moved the technology to its existing inventory of manned and unmanned aircraft. If the Block III AH-64 is fielded on schedule, the basic goal of UCAR will be fulfilled nearly on its original timeline.

But that doesn’t mean UCAR-like airframes are out of the picture for good. Northrop is clear that the Fire-X concept can be adapted to intelligence-collecting and strike missions for the marines or the army. Bell’s XWORX, meanwhile, has resumed investing in PATS technology, allowing future manned and unmanned helicopters to fly faster and without tailrotors.


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6 Responses to UCAR lives, but aircraft switch sides

  1. George Zip 5 May, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    …the Fire-X retaining considerably more commonality than LockMart’s UCAR offering, which ended up using a new rotor system, new anti-torque system, new engine, new gear and new fuselage…

    Interesting that BHTI should choose to base Fire-X on the legacy 407 rather than incorporating the improvements already planned for the 6K/95 OH-58D.

  2. donnage99 20 May, 2010 at 11:55 pm #

    Mr. Trimble

    I’ve found a video of Lockheed UCAR:

    Which I posted over at secretprojects:

    I wonder if you can help me find the rest of the video. It’s supposed to be 9 min long.

  3. Stephen Trimble 21 May, 2010 at 12:28 am #

    I’ve seen the video, but I don’t have a copy. Your best bet is to submit a request to this guy: http://www.youtube.com/user/theworacle

    If anybody has got it, he probably does.

  4. donnage99 23 May, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    I sent him a message right after you recommended. I’m still waiting on the reply.

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