The venerable UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and its Air Force Pave Hawk and Navy Seahawk iterations will be in service for years to come. When the time comes, the nation’s two premier helicopter builders are poised to offer what each deems a more than suitable replacement.
Lockheed Corporation’s Sikorsky is teaming with Boeing to produce the SB>1 Defiant, which features twin overhead rotors that spin in opposite directions. The crankshaft for one rotor is situated inside the other crankshaft. Sikorsky and Boeing say the design eliminates the need for the rear stabilizer rotor found on conventional helicopters with single overhead propellers.
In its place, Sikorsky and Boeing are installing an eight-blade rear propeller that spins perpendicularly to the length of the aircraft’s body. Also in the rear is a twin-rudder stabilizer wing.
The builders believe the design will far exceed Defense Department expectations for the new vertical-lift aircraft.
Plans call for testing the aircraft’s software at Sikorsky’s Connecticut facility. An airframe bolted to a runway in Florida will be used to test the power plants and other systems.
Meanwhile, Bell is moving forward with its V-280 Valor, a tilt-rotor aircraft that differs from the V-22 Osprey in several respects. Unlike the Osprey, the Valor’s wings are straight — eliminating the need for a wing gearbox. The design reduces aircraft weight and production costs, Bell believes. Also, the engines on the Valor are fixed, whereas they rotate on the Osprey.
Bell also has designed the Valor to be a safer aircraft than Osprey. In the event of a crash, Valor’s wings and rotors would boost away from the fuselage.
From a maintenance standpoint, the Valor incorporates many designs inherent to the Osprey — reducing the learning curve in several critical aspects for the crews who would maintain it. Also, with the Valor’s digital design, maintainers would be able to use the same tools as the people who built it.
Whichever new aircraft would make the cut, the Pentagon wants it to have greater range, speed, payload capacity and ability to hover. Under a best-case scenario, the new aircraft would join the inventory no sooner than the early 2030s.