Paul Derby

Boeing Sikorsky should know by the end of June whether it will be able to ramp up the flight programme for its second prototype RAH-66 Comanche helicopter.

Three of the four US congressional committees controlling the US defence budget have approved a $56 million funding increase, it was revealed at the show yesterday. The final Committee is expected to ratify that decision in the next two weeks.

Although the extra finance wouldn't be released until 2000, Boeing Sikorsky says aircraft number two would begin flying again as soon as a funding decision is made.

"Having the two aircraft in the flight development programme full-time would be a real boost to us," says programme director Art Linden.

Brig Gen Joe Bergantz, the US Army's programme manager, says the Army has a confirmed requirement for 1,213 machines as a direct replacement for its Bell Kiowa Warriors and AH-1 Cobras.

A further 13 prototypes will be built between now and 2006, the last eight of which will be deployed to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood. Low-rate production will eventually be increased to 72 machines a year, adds Bergantz.

Addition of the Northrop Grumman Longbow radar, has been brought forward five years to 2006.

The Comanche will form the centrepiece of the US Army's digital battlefield and the aircraft at Paris will be used to develop the aircraft's mission equipment package (MEP).

The MEP is made up of sensors, navigation systems, displays, communications and aircraft allowing the crew to detect and prioritise targets.

Source: Flight Daily News