Next year will bring the first flights of the prototype rotorcraft vying to replace the Army’s venerable Black Hawk and other helicopters. But don’t expect the futuristic aircraft to hit battlefields for another decade and a half — unless their manufacturers find other customers first.
The prototypes are being built for the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator project by Bell Helicopter and the competing Sikorsky-Boeing team.
Bell is building the V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter, or rotate its propellers to fly fast like a fixed-wing plane. Sikorsky and Boeing are building the SB-1 Defiant, a high-speed coaxial helicopter with one rotor mounted atop the other. Bell officials say V-280 ground testing is scheduled for next April and first flight for September 2017; Sikorsky-Boeing reps said their SB-1 would fly next year as well.
The project will feed into the Future Vertical Lift program, a vast effort to replace all Army helicopters — which include the AH-64 Apache, CH-46 Chinook, and the OH-58 Kiowa — at a projected cost of around $100 billion.
The US Army isn’t planning to buy its first new rotorcraft until after 2030. That’s because its acquisition budget — aircraft, armored vehicles, and so forth — has taken a major hit.