The Army’s new super-helicopter

A top Army official wants a very fast, brand-new helicopter in the field within the next two decades. The Army, however, has had some issues with developing new helos.

A top Army aviation boss wants to field a new helicopter that can fly at 200 knots, with or without a human crew on board, in the next 19 years, writes Steve Trimble of the DEW Line. Army Maj. Gen Anthony Crutchfield, who runs the Army’s aviation headquarters at Fort Rucker, Ala., warned an audience at this week’s big Army aviation convention in Nashville that he doesn’t want future generations of Army aviators flying today’s generations of Army helicopters. The service needs to start working now on something new.

Wrote Trimble: “If the 200kt minimum speed requirement sticks, Crutchfield is right. The army will need more than an all-new helicopter. It will need a new kind of rotorcraft, such as a coaxial-compound combination like X2 or a tiltrotor like the V-22. Convention helicopters are limited to a maximum of 170-180kt due to retreating blade stall.”

But even before we start imagining how the Army will satisfy this requirement, it’s worth pointing out that the phrase “new Army helicopter program” could induce many people to develop a nervous twitch. In recent history, the service does not have a sterling record of setting down requirements and then seeing its programs all the way through to the point where they enter service in numbers. Even when the Army wanted to save money by using an “off-the-shelf” aircraft for its Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter — after canceling the wham-o-dyne RAH-66 Commanche — the costs again spiralled out of control.

Still, the acquisition world isn’t like the the craps table, where the dice have no memory. (One hopes.) Maybe the Army can use the painful lessons of its helicopter programs — and its growing self-awareness about its acquisition shortcomings — to get things right with Crutchfield’s new super-helo.