Sikorsky and the US Army are discussing acceleration of the UH-60M Black Hawk modernisation programme by adding another four helicopters to the system development and demonstration programme and possibly including a fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system.

Four helicopters are now in the development programme, one of each of the three variants planned for modernisation - a UH-60A, UH-60L and a UH-60Q medevac machine - plus a new build UH-60M. The first helicopter is due to fly in September after a short delay to change from Northrop Grumman to Rockwell Collins cockpit displays.

Sikorsky UH-60M programme manager Brad Peterson says the army is seeking money to add another four remanufactured machines to be used for electromagnetic interference testing, incorporation of the Joint Tactical Radio System, training and system evaluation. This would allow acceleration of low-rate initial production, due to start next year, and equipment of the first units.

Funding is also being sought for enhancements such as a health and usage monitoring system, as well as the FBW, and to allow work to begin on an improved engine.

"FBW is the next step," says Peterson, "it would reduce weight and the advanced control laws would reduce pilot workloads." The addition of Rotorcraft Pilot Associate technology, demonstrated on the Boeing AH-64 and linked to the flight computer, should reduce incidents of powered flight into terrain.

BAE Systems is believed to already with working with the army on the FBW, although a system has not been selected for the UH-60M. If money is secured in the 2004 budget for FBW, it could be ready by 2007 or around the time the US Army plans its first multi-year UH-60Mpurchase.

Source: Flight International