US Army Future Vertical Lift helicopter reinvention prototypes will be flying in 2017

Future Vertical Lift (FVL) is a program to develop a family of helicopters for the United States Armed Forces. Four different sizes of aircraft are to be developed. They are to share common hardware such as sensors, avionics, engines, and countermeasures. FVL is meant to develop a replacement for the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache, CH-47 Chinook, and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters. The precursor for FVL is the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) helicopter program, which will provide technology demonstrations planned for 2017. The Army plans to acquire as many as 4,000 aircraft from the FVL program.

The U.S. Navy is a partner to the Army on the effort, so a derivative of FVL may be used in the Navy’s MH-XX program to replace the service’s MH-60S/R helicopters.

The Army wants to reinvent the very idea of rotorcraft, with a new propulsion concept. After the flight tests and technology development, JMR will end and a Request for Proposals (RFP) will be issued open to all companies to begin the projected $100 billion FVL effort. Demonstrators developed under JMR will be “X-planes” to demonstrate some key technologies, but they won’t have production-representative engines or real mission systems architecture; JMR will show off technologies to enable Army rotary-wing aviation to make the next leap in speed, lift, protection, and interoperability under FVL for the 2030s. The program is intentionally slow paced to avoid past program failures.

Although requirements are still being refined, the notional concept for a new aircraft must reach speeds of 230 kn (260 mph; 430 km/h), carry up to 12 troops, operate in “high-hot” conditions at altitudes of 6,000 ft (1,800 m) and temperatures of 95-degrees Fahrenheit, and have a combat radius of 424 km (263 mi) with an overall unrefueled range of 848 km (527 mi).

Boeing-Sikorsky vision for the JMR. Boeing-Sikorsky plans to produce three variants from the X2, including the JMR technology demonstrator. Boeing-Sikorsky Graphics

Bell V280. Bell and Lockheed are making the other 2017 prototype.

Four size configurations (which may or may not be of the same design) are envisioned to replace 25 current rotorcraft types:

1. JMR-Light: Scout version to replace the OH-58 Kiowa; introduction planned for 2030.

2. JMR-Medium: Utility and attack versions to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache; introduction planned for 2027–2028.

3. JMR-Heavy: Cargo version to replace the CH-47 Chinook; introduction planned for 2035, although Boeing expects 2060

4. JMR-Ultra: New ultra-sized version for vertical lift aircraft with performance similar to fixed-wing tactical transport aircraft, such as the C-130J Super Hercules and the Airbus A400M Atlas; introduction planned for 2025.

JMR-Medium will likely be split in two.

They are trying to avoid the F35 mistakes. They are trying to split the program into manageable pieces, take advantage of commercial helicopter expertise worldwide, and get Congress on board from the beginning.

According to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, three different configurations of JMR aircraft – a conventional helicopter, a large-wing slowed rotor compound helicopter, and a tiltrotor – were being studied as of April 2013

Boeing-Sikorsky have advantage and are betting big on X2 technology

Compared to conventional helicopters, the counter-rotating coaxial main rotors and pusher propeller offer a 185 km/h (115 mph) speed increase, combat radius extended by 60%, and performs 50% better in high-hot hover performance. Boeing plans to lead phase two, which is the mission systems demonstrator phase. The Boeing-Sikorsky team is seen to have an advantage, given their industrial base, the fact that their helicopter designs are the most used in the Army, and because the Army has had little interest in tiltrotor technology, like that submitted by Bell. The design will have a cruise speed of 250 kn (290 mph; 460 km/h), but less range due to using the “old” T55 engine. A new engine (the future affordable turbine engine (FATE) like on the V-280) would meet the range requirement of 229 NM (264 mi; 424 km). Sikorsky has said that the X2 design is not suitable for heavy-lift size, and instead suggests the CH-53K for heavy-lift and tiltrotor for the ultra-class. However, Sikorsky plans to build the 30,000lb-class JMR-TD at full scale to remove doubts about the scalability of the X-2 technology. Up to 2013, Sikorsky and partners have spent $250 million on X2 and Raider.

Bell and Lockheed

Bell Helicopter is pitching a third-generation tiltrotor design for the FVL program. Bell sought partners for financial and technological support, although the company did not require assistance. In April 2013, Bell revealed its tiltrotor design, named the Bell V-280 Valor. It is designed to have a cruise speed of 280 knots (320 mph; 520 km/h), range of 2,100 nautical miles (2,400 mi; 3,900 km), and a combat range of 500 to 800 nmi (580 to 920 mi; 930 to 1,480 km). It features a V-tail, a large cell carbon core wing with a composite fuselage, triple redundant fly-by-wire flight control system, retractable landing gear, and two 6-foot (1.8 m) wide side doors for ease of access. The V-280 is unusual in that the rotor system tilts, but not the engines. The planned demonstrator is medium-sized and carries 4 crew and 11 troops, and is to be built at 92 percent scale or larger. Bell says they are investing 4 times the government amount.

The Army formally announced the selection of the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 and Bell-Lockheed V-280 on 3 October 2014. Both teams will now build technology demonstration aircraft with flight tests starting in 2017.


AVX Aircraft proposed an aircraft with their coaxial rotor and twin ducted fan design that provides better steering and some additional forward power. AVX teamed with Rockwell Collins, General Electric, and BAE Systems.

AVX JMR Utility Transport showing cutaway for troop seating.


By 2020, we will have better turboshafts, cockpit displays, and sensors and self-protection systems. Inserting these components onto existing platforms will offer much better performance with minimal cost penalty, creating a better way forward than FVL.

SOURCES – Wikipedia, Bell, Boeing-Sikorsky, AVX, Aviation Week, Breaking Defense