Joint Heavy Lift programme faces two-year, up to $70 million funding gap

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The US Army Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) programme needs $60 million to $70 million to survive for two more years until a possible demonstration programme begins in Fiscal 2012.

The money is unlikely to be inserted in the army’s Fiscal 2010 budget request going to Congress in mid-May, leaving the programme essentially broke after FY2009 funds expire in October, said Bruce Tenney, associate director of technology for the applied aviation technology directorate.

Tenney said he needs about $30 million to $35 million per year to fund the next round of wind tunnel tests and improve the maturity of the engine designs.

“Right now nobody has stepped up and said, ‘I’m going to fund you,’” said Tenney.

Despite the two-year funding gap, army aviation officials are building a case to launch a JHL demonstration programme in three years.

It remains possible that the JHL programme’s supporters in Congress will add funds to the budget to cover the two-year gap, Tenney said. Last year, the JHL also faced a funding crisis resolved at the last minute by lawmakers.

“Some of the [Congressional] committees will inquire why the army would drop the ball and wait two years” for the demonstration programme, said Tenney.

The JHL demonstrator is intended to prove engine, electronic and structural technologies that can be scaled up. The army has defined a rotorcraft design that could carry payloads up to 42t at sea level or 32.5t when starting at 1,220m (4,000ft) in temperatures up to 35ºC (95ºF), Tenney said.

The army also wants the aircraft to cruise at speeds up to 300kts, which likely requires a tiltrotor configuration.

Four teams of contractors – Boeing, Bell Helicopter, Karem/Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky – are bidding for the demonstrator aircraft.

The competing options range from Karem’s optimum speed tiltrotor, Bell’s quad tiltrotor, Sikorsky’s variable-diameter tiltrotor and Boeing’s concept that includes a tiltrotor and a jet-powered, short-takeoff-and-landing aircraft sharing a common fuselage.

JHL is the army’s candidate for replacing the Lockheed C-130H fleet after 2020. The Joint Future Tactical Lift (JFTL) programme also is considering a fixed-wing, STOL-capable transport proposed by the US Air Force.

The JFTL requirement calls only for an airlifter that can clear a 15m obstacle after a takeoff roll no longer than 457m. An analysis of alternatives scheduled to start in the third quarter will identify which is more cost-effective: the JHL’s vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capability or the USAF’s STOL airlifter.

“The army, marines and special operators … see the airplane manoeuvring forces to positions of advantage,” said Tenney. “I think the airlift community predominantly sees the aircraft as part of the movement and distribution system and analogous to the way that movement and distribution is done today. And I think that’s been one of the cultural conflicts and one of the cultural differences that’s created conflict in the requirement.”