Airbus proposing X³ offshoot for U.S. Army FARA program

Airbus is proposing an aircraft that utilizes technology developed from its X³ hybrid demonstrator program for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype (FARA CP) program.

Airbus is evolving the hybrid helicopter technology it developed during the X3 program for civilian application in the Racer (an acronym for Rapid And Cost-Efficient Rotorcraft). Airbus Image
Airbus is evolving the hybrid helicopter technology it developed during the X3 program for civilian application in the Racer (an acronym for Rapid And Cost-Efficient Rotorcraft). Airbus Image
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The X³ was a highly successful demonstrator for Airbus, setting several speed records through its use of two propellers on short wings either side of a Dauphin-based fuselage, topped by a five-bladed main rotor. The aircraft logged more than 155 flight hours over 199 flights, reaching a level flight speed of 255 knots (472 km/h) on June 7, 2013.

The Army launched the FARA competition in October 2018 when it issued a formal program solicitation, with the aim of finding a new armed scout aircraft for the service.

“This platform is the ‘knife fighter’ of future Army Aviation capabilities, a small form factor platform with maximized performance,” the solicitation stated.

Airbus was among those to submit a proposal in December 2018, with the first of four potential phases of program development scheduled to begin in June 2019.

“Yes, we are looking at the FARA demonstrator program, based on the technology we have developed . . . in terms of [a] high-speed platform based on the X³ in particular,” Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters, told journalists during a media briefing ahead of HAI Heli-Expo. “These competencies, this technology, we have developed years [ago]. Clearly we want to leverage them in order to propose a competitive solution first at a demonstrator phase for the U.S. DoD [Department of Defense] program.”

The Army will select four to six bidders to take part in the program’s initial phase, which will give candidates nine months to develop preliminary designs and provide data supporting their bid. From there, two or more will be downselected to take part in a detailed design, build and test phase.

If selected for the second phase, the contenders will receive about $735 million to cover their aircraft’s development from 2020 to 2023, with an anticipated first flight in November 2022.

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Since the X³’s retirement in 2013, Airbus has continued the type’s legacy in the form of the Racer — a high-speed demonstrator intended for commercial applications.

“You can also envision a military path for that technology as well,” said Scott Tumpak, head of military programs in North America for Airbus. “We’re in a competitive phase right now, so we don’t want to get too far out in front by going into too much detail as to what the specific offer is.”

The Army’s parameters for the aircraft include a 40-foot rotor disc and a speed of 180 knots.

When questioned as to whether the rotor disc of an X³ offshoot could fit in that space, Tumpak said it would be one of the discussion points the manufacturer will have with the Army.

“The answer is always, you could, but at what cost to your tradespace and other areas?” he said. “In our mind, that is what the major purpose is of this initial design review is — to have that dialogue of what the tradespace is with the end customer.”

Sikorsky and Bell have also declared their interest in the program, with the former highlighting the suitability of its X2 technology for the armed reconnaissance mission.

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