Northrop Grumman and Raytheon have placed early bids for a new fire control radar (FCR) for the Boeing Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche armed reconnaissance/attack helicopter. Further bids are expected.

According to Boeing, the US Army is proposing to include the radar in production Lot 1, rather than Lot 5 as originally planned. The army recently decided to run a new radar competition rather than sticking with the Northrop Grumman/Lockheed Martin Longbow radar used on the AH-64D Apache.

Boeing says it is proving cheaper and easier than expected to produce an improved FCR, so the army has now decided to introduce the equipment early.

The Comanche, in the shape of the second prototype,was on display for the first time outside the USA at the show.

The first prototype Comanche has flown 105h to date, and is undergoing inspection at Sikorsky's West Palm Beach, Florida, site. Flight testing will resume at the end of September, said programme manager Brig Gen Joe Bergantz at the show.

Prototype two, which has yet to fly, will be used to validate the Comanche's mission equipment package (MEP), including the mission computer and navigation, communications and identification systems. Most recently, the aircraft has been used for maintenance trials, timing the removal and replacement of critical components, and the test team is due to begin flying in April 1999.

Six more pre-production test aircraft are to be built and delivered from 2003, with deliveries at a rate of one every two months. Prototype number four will be the radar test aircraft, says Bergantz, adding that the current, revised delivery schedule - 14 months later than originally planned, will allow the pre-production aircraft to be equipped in a "production-representative configuration" with the full MEP.

Bergantz says that he hopes three of these aircraft will participate in a series of exercises in 2004 called Force XXI, which will be aimed at testing the concept of the digital battlefield.

The first eight production aircraft, two of which will be radar-equipped, will be delivered for operational evaluation trials in 2004 and 2005. These Comanches will become operational in 2006.

According to army test pilot Chief Warrant Officer John Armbrust, flight tests to date have been carried out using the lowest levels of stability augmentation in the flight control system. The highest level tested to date is the mission primary flight control system, in which handling qualities "comparable to existing fielded systems" have been demonstrated.

The aircraft has been flown at forward speeds up to 172kt (320km/h), rearward at up to 70kt, 75kt to the left and 65kt to the right. The US Army has a requirement for 1,292 helicopters, which Bergantz says could be purchased over 20 years.

Bergantz says that international partnerships may be possible after the US Government commits to buy the helicopter in 2000, although "issues of technology transfer-have to be dealt with".

Source: Flight International