REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. --- On a wet, rainy day at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., the Army’s 40th Chief of Staff, Gen. James C. McConville, stood on the flight line as the Sikorsky-Boeing Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) prepared for a flight demonstration. Officials worried the weather would keep the SB-1 Defiant grounded but as if on cue, the rain stopped, the skies cleared and the aircraft took to flight.
A few days later on an unseasonably cold day in Arlington, Texas, Gen. McConville along with other senior leaders walked out of the hangar of the Bell Flight Research Center. “We’re flying before buying,” the senior army aviator exclaimed as the Bell V-280 Valor took to the sky for a flight demonstration of the JMR-TD aircraft’s capabilities.
In 2014, the Army selected the Bell and Sikorsky-Boeing teams to continue the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) to flight demonstration proving out transformational vertical lift capabilities while burning down risk for Future Vertical Lift (FVL) efforts. The Bell V-280 Valor is a tiltrotor aircraft that made its inaugural flight in December 2017. The Valor has since reached speeds in excess of 340 miles per hour.
The Sikorsky-Boeing tech demonstrator SB-1 Defiant first took flight in March 2019 and leverages Sikorsky’s X2 technology with a rigid compound rotor and pusher prop. The Defiant has recently reached speeds of 250 miles per hour. Both Industry teams have made significant contributions to the tech demonstrator program and have provided invaluable flight data to the Army requirements developers for FVL platforms.
Coming off the heels of the Army Requirements Oversight Council approval of the Abbreviated Capability Development Document (A-CDD) for the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), the Army Chief of Staff took the opportunity to visit each of the tech demonstrators for a firsthand assessment of their transformational vertical lift technologies.
“I’m excited to see what everyone is doing to transform army aviation,” McConville stated.
The flight demonstrations showcased advances in vertical lift technologies not just in terms of increased speeds, but level one handling qualities as well. “FLRAA will see significant improvements in reach,” said Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen the Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team director. “Reach is defined as speed, range, and endurance at range and we expect to see two and three times the reach with FLRAA over our current fleet,” he added.
Flying at twice the speed and three times the range of the current UH-60 fleet, FLRAA will provide transformational advances in terms of lethality and survivability in Multi Domain Operations with significantly enhanced air assault and aero medevac capabilities. These advancements will prove critical for Army operations in a theater like the Indo-Pacific where the dominant geographical feature is water and yet land forces remain the predominant military force in the majority of nations in the region. FLRAA’s extended reach will increase the U.S. Army’s ability to move forces while overcoming the tyranny of time and distance. “It’s the technology that allows you to do these type of things and now you can do them a lot faster, a lot further,” McConville said.
The Army plans to publish requirements informed by the JMR-TD activities in a request for proposals to industry for the FLRAA program by the summer of fiscal year 2021. FVL is the Army’s number three modernization priority with an ambitious schedule to field the first unit equipped with FLRAA by fiscal year 2030.
Brig. Gen. Robert Barrie, the Program Executive Officer for Aviation, remarked, "The government and industry investment in the JMR-TD aircraft has had a significant impact in reducing risk prior to moving into the FLRAA program of record."
Affordability is a critical element of the FLRAA program with operating and support costs estimated to be approximately 68% of the overall lifecycle costs. “We’re taking what we’ve learned through JMR-TD and baking those lessons into our requirements to drive down operating and support costs of the aircraft,” Rugen said.
“Cost matters, performance matters and schedule matters. We say that, but it really does,” the Army Chief of Staff offered then added, “And ultimately, winning matters.”