Testing of two prototype helicopters being developed to replace the US Army’s mothballed Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warriors will not begin until late 2023 at the earliest, one year later than previously planned.
Army budget documents say fiscal year 2023 funding for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme will be used to continue airframe design and mission system development. Documents also show that competitive testing of FARA prototypes is now scheduled for FY2024, which begins in October of 2023.
By contrast, last year’s budget documents had planned for competitive testing of the FARA prototypes to occur in FY2023.
The two companies competing for the FARA contract are Sikorsky and Bell, which beat proposals from Boeing, AVX Aircraft and Karem Aircraft.
Both Bell and Sikorsky directed requests for information regarding the FARA timeline to the US Army office overseeing the programme. The army’s Program Executive Office on Aviation cited pandemic-related delays in development of GE Aviation’s Improved Turbine Engine (ITE), which will power both FARA designs, as the reason for the schedule change.
“The FARA vendors are planning to start ITE integration into their competitive prototype flight demonstrators in November 2022 in order to support flight testing in 2023,” the army tells FlightGlobal. It adds that the testing delay was necessary to allow results during prototype testing to inform the final programme requirements.
Sikorsky has put forth its RaiderX design, which has a coaxial rotor and rear propulsor, and Bell submitted the 360 Invictus, a more-conventional design with a main rotor and tail rotor.
Whichever design is ultimately selected will serve as the army’s armed scout aircraft. Since the phased retirement of the OH-58 began in 2014, the army has been using the Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter teamed with the AAI RQ-7 Shadow unmanned air vehicle to fill that role.
Two months ago, FlightGlobal reported that delays to GE’s development of its T901 engine threatened to push back planned first flights of the Sikorsky and Bell prototypes. Both use that engine. At the time, Bell’s vice-president of military sales and strategy Carl Coffman said first flight of the Invictus 360 could occur by the third quarter of 2023 but depends on delivery by GE of the T901. Bell expects to receive that engine in October or November, but Coffman warned the delivery timeline could slip.
In March GE told FlightGlobal it is working to deliver the first flight-test T901s this year.
The FARA programme and another effort called the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) programme fall under the Army’s Future Vertical Lift project. FLRAA aims to develop a replacement for the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk.
FY2023 appropriation for the FLRAA programme will be used to support material acquisition and developmental testing. FY2023 begins in September 2022.
The two designs competing for the FLRAA contract are Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor and a joint Boeing-Sikorsky design called DefiantX, which also has coaxial rotors and a rear propulsor. The teams have each developed working prototypes.
Production of the selected design for both FARA and FLRAA is slated to begin around 2030.
Story corrected on 9 May to note that Bell’s Coffman was speaking about the Invictus 360, not DefiantX, and updated with more comments from Coffman.