AVX Aircraft and L3 Technologies have teamed up and produced a design to compete in the U.S. Army's Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program. This high-speed coaxial chopper will vie for inclusion in a competitive prototype fly-off that'll decide which aircraft eventually gets produced.
Since 2012, when Bell's OH-58 Kiowa was retired from recon and light attack duties it had performed since 1969, the Army has been using Boeing's AH-64 Apache in that role. The Apache is a fine attack heli, but Brigadier-General Walter Rugen, cross-functional team director of the Army's Future Vertical Lift team, described it as "a suboptimal solution. The Apache is an attack helicopter, not an armed reconnaissance helicopter. We did it for budget considerations."
Thus, the FARA program was established to design a replacement using the latest technologies. The front-runner, given that it's already up and flying, would have to be Sikorsky's S-97 Raider, a meaty coaxial design with a pusher prop on the back and retractable landing gear enabling high-speed, long-range flight and excellent maneuverability.
But the Army has committed to a competitive prototyping arrangement that'll see two prototypes from American manufacturers funded and tested side by side, and AVX and L3 are keen to get in on the action.
Detail is a little scant on exactly what the AVX/L3 solution will be, other than the following: it'll have a side-by-side cockpit with fly-by-wire controls that allow computers to simplify the control scheme. Where the Sikorsky uses a single large pusher prop on the back for horizontal thrust, the AVX/L3 will use twin ducted fans, enabling thrust in forward and reverse, along with wings to maintain lift in fast horizontal flight.
It'll use a Modern Open Systems Architecture (MOSA)-based digital backbone and avionics systems, and it'll be small enough to load onto a Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport plane or stash on a Navy ship thanks to folding blades and wings. Its modular design will allow re-use of components and "a high degree of systems commonality across all of the U.S. Army capability sets."
The Army is hoping to select the two successful bids to move to the next phase by 2020, then have them fully designed and prototyped by 2023 in preparation for a government-sponsored fly-off in which the designs can be compared and contrasted, and a winner chosen. The winning design is expected to have operational capacity by 2028, according to FlightGlobal, and as many as 500 machines could be produced.
"FARA is going to be the greatest armed reconnaissance helicopter in the world," says Brigadier-General Rugen.
See AVX/L3's pitch video below.
Source: AVX Aviation & L3 Technologies
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