The Pentagon and the Army are in the early stages of a far-reaching science and technology (S&T) effort to engineer, build, and deliver a next-generation helicopter with vastly improved avionics, electronics, range, speed, propulsion, survivability, operating density altitudes, and payload capacity. In a series of five articles, Access AL&T looks in detail at what this program is intended to accomplish and how industry is contributing.
The areas of science and technology (S&T) focus for the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) Technology Demonstrator program span a wide spectrum of emerging technologies, including composite materials, onboard electronics, and various rotor configurations designed to increase speed without compromising hovering ability, said Dave Weller, S&T Program Manager in Program Executive Office Aviation.
One of several existing “compound helicopter” technologies under examination in the Phase 1 configuration and trades analysis is a coaxial rotor system, which places auxiliary propulsion technologies or “thrusting” devices at the back end of the aircraft to provide extra speed.
Another example is a helicopter that uses two turbo-shaft engines and two small fixed-wings on each side of the aircraft, fitted with a pusher-propeller for extra propulsion.
Also under examination is the potential use of tilt-rotor aircraft technology such as that currently used for the V-22 Osprey; with this design, the aircraft can reach high speeds in airplane mode and then maintain its ability to hover successfully in helicopter mode.
“When you develop capabilities like these, however, you give up some hover ability. A main focus of the research is to look at ways of increasing speed without sacrificing the ability to hover,” Weller said. “Part of the science and technology program is to look at different configurations.”
One possible solution is multi-speed transmission capability, a unique configuration designed to increase speed while avoiding the aerodynamic phenomenon of transonic shock, said Mac Dinning, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center Aviation Liaison to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology.
“All of the helicopters we develop now are built with a single-speed transmission. We are looking at how we can leverage technology and put in a multi-speed capability,” Dinning explained.
In addition, the new Air Vehicle may contain composite materials and/or items now in development, said Ned Chase, Chief, Platform Technology Division, Aviation Applied Technology Directorate and S&T Lead for the JMR Technology Demonstrator Program.
“We are exploring how to get the most efficiency out of the new structure that we can. One way to do that may be by using composite materials,” he said.
Increasing Air Vehicle speed can shorten the response time for extended missions or lengthen combat radius, a critical necessity for saving lives in medical evacuations and getting supplies such as food, water, and ammunition to forward-positioned forces, Dinning said.
“Current helicopter systems are designed to operate for approximately two hours without refueling. Typical cruise speeds of 140 knots limit the range that these aircraft can operate in. Short of off-loading payload (troops, weapons, cargo) to add extra fuel bladders, extended-range operations must rely on Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs), where fuel and armaments are prepositioned. The Army recognizes the need to reduce the manned footprint of these forward operation positions,” Dinning said.
Nonlinear, asymmetric, or counterinsurgency-type environments such as in the current conflict in Afghanistan underscore the need to reduce the risks associated with having deployed units travel to potentially hostile prepositioned locations to set up FARPs, he added.
Phase 2 of the JMR Technology Demonstrator effort will include an extensive Mission Systems and Aircraft Survivability Equipment S&T developmental effort, which will determine, in large part, what the inside of the new helicopter looks like.
Like Phase 1, Phase 2 puts a heavy emphasis on affordability and encouraging innovation in a manner that also contains costs.
Along these lines, the JMR is expected to use Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS), diagnostic sensor technologies attached to key aircraft components to catalog usage data and thus streamline repairs and replacements, substantially lower maintenance costs, and in some cases extend the service life of aircraft, Dinning said.
“HUMS absolutely has the highest potential for reducing operational and maintenance cost of the aircraft. This provides an ability to build sensors onto maintenance-intensive components that we routinely inspect. We record the flight usage spectrum, and the sensors record the behavior of this component.
“This information is then passed to a diagnostic software tool that diagnoses anomalies in that behavior and then sends the information to a prognostic tool, which determines when failure might occur. This combination of sensing, diagnostics, and prognostics allows us to move from our current scheduled maintenance to a condition-based maintenance approach. This allows us to replace stuff only as needed,” Dinning said.
While this technology is used widely in the current fleet of Army aircraft, future applications of HUMS will look at innovative ways to embed diagnostic technologies onto the Air Vehicle itself, he said.
NEXT: Next-Generationl Equipment Eyed for New Helicopter
Previous stories on JMR:
Pentagon, Army Developing Next-Generation Helicopter Fleet (9 January 2012)
Industry Teams at Work on JMR (10 January 2012)
For more information on the DASA for Research & Technology, visit https://www.alt.army.mil/portal/page/portal/oasaalt/SAAL-ZT.
- KRIS OSBORN is a Highly Qualified Expert for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Office of Strategic Communications. He holds a B.A. in English and political science from Kenyon College and an M.A. in comparative literature from Columbia University.