The race is on to build the U.S. Army’s new super-helicopter — and competition is heating up.
As of March, four companies, and teams of companies, had submitted proposals to the Army to build a new “Future Vertical Lift,” or FVL, aircraft to replace the hodgepodge of Kiowa scout helicopters, Black Hawk and Chinook transports, and Apache attack helos that currently carry soldiers into battle, and support ground troops once they’re there. What aircraft will be chosen to replace them, though, remains to be seen.
Privately held, Benbrook, Texas-based AVX Aircraft has developed a helicopter lifted by coaxial rotors up top, but boosted by twin ducted fans, as its offering.
Europe’s EADS is submitting a design based on its Eurocopter X3 demonstrator aircraft, featuring a five-bladed top rotor and two short wings outfitted with propellers.
A partnership between The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) and United Technologies Corporation (NYSE:UTX)‘ Sikorsky — the incumbent operators, whose Apaches and Black Hawks currently comprise 80% of the Army’s aircraft — have a demo craft they call the X2, which, like its rivals, features both rotors up top and a push-propeller at rear to help boost flight speed.
Meanwhile, Textron Inc. (NYSE:TXT) — which in combination with The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) built the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft that’s so popular with the U.S. Marines and special operations troops — is working up a third-generation tiltrotor that it calls the V-280 Valor. But apparently jilted by The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA), Textron Inc. (NYSE:TXT) decided last week to ally with The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA)’s archrival in military aircraft, and added Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT) to its team.
Lockheed Martin? Really?
While Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT) might be best known for building supersonic stealth fighters, rather than humdrum helos, the fact is that the company has a lot of expertise in building the innards of combat helicopters. In fact, just last month Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT) announced that it had worked up an integrated package of helicopter technology suitable for use in all variants of the new FVL aircraft, and featuring “advanced avionics, sensors, and weapons … that can be applied across multiple platforms.”
Apparently, Textron Inc. (NYSE:TXT) likes Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT)’s tech and is gambling on its success in winning both of the last two major Pentagon fighter jet projects — the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II — to help Textron Inc. (NYSE:TXT) beat The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) in the FVL contest.