Beyond the Horizon: Military Engineers on the Frontlines of Aviation’s

The U.S. Army’s scientific and technological community is playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of vertical lift aviation, aiming to empower soldiers to accomplish missions once considered unattainable. In collaboration with NASA and the Navy, the Army is leveraging its technical expertise to achieve ambitious scientific and engineering objectives for developing a new generation of joint aircraft.

According to Ned Chase, Deputy Program Director of Science and Technology (S&T) for the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator/Future Vertical Lift (JMR TD), this initiative addresses capability gaps that cannot be filled by merely updating the existing aircraft fleet. Chase, affiliated with the Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) in Fort Eustis, Virginia, emphasizes the focus on demonstrating the feasibility of incorporating various cutting-edge technologies into a novel aircraft design. “We aim to create a roadmap for developing radios, weapons, sensors, and survivability equipment by drawing from RDECOM in preparation for FVL. We take their products and integrate them onto the platform itself. FVL will reflect the cumulative investment of RDECOM,” Chase states.

Charles Catterall, a lead systems engineer at AMRDEC, highlights the collaborative effort involving various sister organizations within the Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM) to support this program. The initiative includes two key components: the Air Vehicle Demonstration (AVD) and the Mission Systems Architecture Demonstration (MSAD). Industry partners like Sikorsky-Boeing and Bell Helicopter are responsible for designing, testing, and ultimately flying the demonstrator aircraft.

The ultimate objective of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program is to replace the military’s vertical lift aircraft fleet with a new family of aircraft. This effort involves integrating technology concepts from across RDECOM and the Department of Defense into an efficient and enduring architecture. Chase acknowledges the challenge of developing technologies that can function effectively in a more demanding aviation environment, transitioning from flying aircraft at 130 knots to 250 knots, thus altering the operational landscape for weapons, sensors, and radios.

Developing a joint aircraft for all services is expected to streamline technology development, training, maintenance, and logistics. The initiative categorizes aircraft into four distinct types—light, medium, heavy, and ultra—to cater to the diverse mission requirements of different services. Collaboration with NASA and the Navy, each with unique expertise, enhances the project’s comprehensiveness. The joint requirement necessitates a diverse team, as different services have varied missions and operating conditions.

The project’s timeline includes first flight testing in the summer of 2017, with technologies integrated onto the platform at technology readiness level 6 between 2022 and 2024. While the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) often develops single-purpose aircraft, the focus of JMR TD is to build a fleet capable of achieving multiple strategic goals.

This article, originally published in the March/April 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine, showcases the U.S. Army’s collaborative efforts to revolutionize military vertical lift aviation through cutting-edge technology integration and innovation.

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