Stealth rollout: Boeing keeps Army attack helicopter concept secret

Boeing’s concept for a new U.S. Army armed scout helicopter is stealthy, in the sense that no one but the Army can see it, for now.

Boeing AUSA booth
The Boeing booth at AUSA, with a mockup of the SB>1 Defiant in the foreground. Boeing is declining to reveal its smaller armed scout helicopter concept for the time being. Dan Parsons Photo
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Of the five competitors vying to build the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), Boeing is the lone manufacturer that has yet to unveil at least conceptual art of what its FARA would look like. A concept exists and the Army is “fully aware” of where Boeing is in the initial design phase of the competition, said Boeing FARA program manager Shane Openshaw.

“‘It’s competition sensitive, our approach right now,” Openshaw told reporters Oct. 14 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference (AUSA) in Washington, D.C. “Our approach is not to necessarily be out in the public sphere pumping our chest. We are quietly and aggressively pursuing that requirement and staying in touch with the Army. . . . We will gradually go public and start revealing the nuances of our design when it makes sense for us to do so if we can.”

Declining to reveal details of its new fast attack aircraft sets Boeing apart amongst it competitors. Bell is debuting a full-scale mockup of its 360 Invictus FARA design at AUSA. A few booths down, AVX Aircraft and L3 team also have a full-scale mockup of their coaxial-rotor, side-by-side cockpit design that sports dual ducted fan forward propulsion.

Sikorsky went public Monday morning with its Raider X, a souped-up version of the in-test S-97 Raider coaxial rotor compound helicopter, which it will pitch for FARA. The final Karem Aircraft/Northrop Grumman/Raytheon team have already gone public with the AR40 single-rotor design that sports a tail propulsor similar to Raider.

Mark Cherry, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s shadowy Phantom Works division, said the company is mirroring successful campaigns like the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 carrier-based unmanned refueling tanker.

“We strategically revealed what we thought was relevant while only sharing with our ultimate customer where we are,” Cherry said. “It is a competition and competition breeds the best and although our competitors may choose a different path, that doesn’t dictate which way Phantom Works is going to move forward. It also affords us opportunities to continue to make the trades necessary to ensure we get the right capability the Army is requiring.”

The U.S. Army is developing FARA on a relatively swift timeline, with plans to field the aircraft by 2030. Two competitors should receive contracts in 2020 to build prototypes that will fly off against each other in 2023. The winning aircraft eventually will fill the armed scout role left vacant by the retired Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, now being performed by Boeing AH-64E Apaches teamed with AAI RQ-7 Shadow drones.

Boeing is operating under a $772 million initial design prototyping agreement contract the Army awarded in April. Each of the competitors has a similar contract ranging from $732 million to Sikorsky’s monster $938 million award.

Boeing is already buying up long-lead-time materials for a real-world prototype aircraft, but detailed design and fabrication won’t begin until around March 2020 when and if the Army chooses the company for a FARA phase 2 contract, Openshaw said.

“We are moving ahead with long-lead time activities that will support our build of our prototype program,” Openshaw said. “So, yes, we are planning to build it.”

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The company has a comprehensive plan for developing its FARA prototype that reaches out to 2023 and includes the initial design activity, detailed design, integration testing, flight test and ultimately a fly-off competition,” Openshaw said.

Phantom Works is partly responsible for the RAH-66 Comanche stealth armed reconnaissance helicopter that ate up about $7 billion in Army development funding before being summarily canceled in 2004.

Boeing also has shopped around a modified AH-64E Block II concept featuring wings and an aft propulsor in place of a tail rotor. The modifications could boost the Apache’s speed to 185 knots, increase payload to 5,900 pounds (2,675 kilograms) hover out of ground effect and extend its range to 460 nautical miles (850 kilometers), according to Boeing. Neither of those are apparently Boeing FARA concept, though it may ultimately draw from both.

“We are typically involved when there is a clean-sheet opportunity, a brand-new requirement or a combination of requirements coming together that necessitate a new capability,” Cherry said. “I say capability for a reason because sometimes, folks think in terms of platforms. Platforms is certainly a part of an ecosystem, but we think about a system of systems in terms of what the customer’s actual needs are in terms of a capability and putting that in place.”

“The people who need to know what our configuration is, they know our configuration,” Cherry added.

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