All competitors in the US Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme have unveiled renderings and details of their designs – except Boeing.
Most recently, on 14 October at the Association of the US Army exposition in Washington, D.C., Karem unveiled its winged AR40 compound helicopter and Sikorsky unveiled its Raider X co-axial compound helicopter. Two weeks earlier, on 2 October, Bell unveiled its 360 Invictus winged helicopter. The AVX Aircraft and L3 Technologies team unveiled their coaxial helicopter design way back in April.
Despite the flurry of disclosures Boeing is staying mum for now. The company declines to say what type of rotorcraft it will pitch to the US Army. It also declines to say when, or if, it will reveal more information to the public prior to the service’s decision.
Like most of its competitors – except Sikorsky – Boeing doesn’t have flight test time on its FARA technology, meaning the company is banking on being one of two designs to be funded by the US Army in March 2020 to be developed into a prototype. The company would then compete in a fly-off competition by 2023.
Nonetheless, Boeing says “key differentiators” will be its ability to compete on cost and its rapid prototyping abilities. In particular, the company touts its model-based engineering processes, which it credits for recently winning the US Air Force’s T-7A trainer programme.
“We leverage model-based engineering in ways that, frankly, have been in my aerospace experience game changing, in terms of changing some of the paradigms,” says Mark Cherry, vice-president and general manager of Boeing Phantom Works.
The company says it is also borrowing expertise from its aerospace research subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences.
Those capabilities aside, Boeing is afraid that if it reveals too much about its design other companies could quickly use that information to significantly hurt its chances of moving forward in the competition.
“It's competition sensitive, what our approach is right now,” says Shane Openshaw, Boeing FARA programme manager. “Our approach is not to necessarily be out in the public sphere thumping our chest. We are quietly and aggressively pursuing the requirement, and staying in touch with the Army team that is going to make a decision.”
In particular, the company is wary of other manufacturers' competitive intelligence analysts, who might be able to dissect its rotorcraft’s cost and performance capabilities.
“There's a lot that you can glean from a configuration,” says Cherry. “I think that there's a strategic decision made in terms of what you reveal, how you reveal it, and how much you reveal. And obviously, some of our competitors have made that choice to go that route. We just haven't gone that route.”