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MD Helicopters Inc. (MDHI) is developing a NOTAR-equipped aircraft with a wing for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype (FARA CP) program, Lynn Tilton, the company’s CEO, has announced.
In a wide-ranging media briefing at Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo, Tilton said the aircraft — to be known as the Swift — would be a further evolution of the twin-engine MD 969 on display at the manufacturer’s booth at the show.
Swift will be a fully composite aircraft, with a wing and more powerful engines, she said. The NOTAR anti-torque system would have more fans and provide more thrust than that of the MD 902/969, she added, but would be narrower.
An accelerated design and development phase will see a prototype built in nine months, said Tilton, and the aircraft would be capable of reaching 200 knots.
The MD 969 Combat Helicopter is itself an evolution of the MD 900/902 series, featuring a three-display instrument flight rules-approved Genesys Aerosystems IDU-680 glass cockpit. MDHI hopes to have the IDU-680 certified by the end of this year.
The 969 is on display at Heli-Expo with a “weapons plant”” that allows for up to six weapons stations within the cabin, and seating for up to eight (including two pilots).
In terms of its performance, MDHI said the 969 will have a 6,770-pound maximum gross takeoff weight, with a useful load of 3,395 pounds, and a range of 422 miles. With FARA performance improvements, the company said the 969 would be capable of a cruise speed of 160 knots and a maximum speed of 180 knots.
“This will be a lethal machine,” said Tilton. “It’s just going to carry enough weaponry that it makes it as lethal as a Black Hawk — and that’s because it’s designed with so much stability, a great center of gravity, and the empty gross weight. . . I think it is just the missing link of what we already have in the light attack space.”
Tilton added that the company’s focus this year would be on bringing the 969 to the marketplace, with the development of Swift behind it.
“It’s very hard to take an aircraft that’s been built for 140 knots and turn it into a 200-knot aircraft,” she said. “It’s the research and development on this system [the 969] that is taking us to that system [Swift]. But we put the money away, we’ve got a plan and hopefully next year we’ll have [Swift] here [at Heli-Expo].”
According to Tilton, the company built 105 light attack helicopters between 2012 and 2018, and hopes to deliver 51 this year, completing a contract with Afghanistan for MD 530Fs, and working on deliveries to Malaysia, Kenya and Lebanon.
“We’re really trying to grow into a being a defense contractor from a commercial company,” said Tilton. “We need to get better at juggling the military and commercial business. If there’s one thing that we drop the ball on it’s getting those commercial deliveries done on time.”
With the development of Swift being pursued, Tilton said the 6XX program has been put on the backburner.
“We still have the full design and capability of the 6XX, but to be honest, we can’t do it right now, just in terms of priorities.”
Sikorsky, Airbus, and Bell have also declared their interest in the FARA program, which aims provide the “knife fighter” of future Army Aviation capabilities. Sikorsky has highlighted the suitability of technology developed for its X2 program, while Airbus has proposed an aircraft that utilizes technology developed from its X³ hybrid demonstrator program.