Radical helos, V/STOL vehicles and UAVs are on US Army's shopping list

Complexities of future warfare lead to purchase of wide variety of unconventional aircraft.

Austere budget forecasts

Tail section from the helicopter that crashed onto the wall of Osama bin Laden's compound. Note that the tail is not the typical tail rotor section of the standard Black Hawk.

Future vehicles of any sort certainly face looming defense budget cuts and the successful procurement cycle of these futuristic aircraft is tenuous at best.

Challenges abound for the designers of the Transformer, which is required to survive small-arms fire, drive off-road, configure rapidly into an aircraft and take off vertically commanded by a soldier with no pilot training.

Certainly requiring these specs in an aircraft will push the development of state-of-the-art lightweight materials and propulsion systems with high power-to-weight engines and lift-generating designs.

These monumental improvements in aerodynamic designs will undoubtedly trickle down to commercial use if they come to fruition.

Similar hurdles must be cleared for the JMR program to see the light of day. There is no doubt that a multirole aircraft used in all branches of service would be beneficial to the military as well as for future use in civil aviation applications like EMS and offshore applications.

Will the withdrawal from Iraq increase the funding needed for future vertical-lift programs? Or will they follow the same path as the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) for the Army and USAF—first fully funded, then taken over by USAF only to be cancelled by them to claim $235 million in budget savings? This decision has resulted in the Army divesting the Shorts C23 Sherpa with no small cargo airplane to replace it.

Perhaps in the future military air vehicles will actually resemble beefy aircraft from the movies with articulating ducted-fan rotor systems armed to the teeth, coming in smaller attack versions, medium-size troop haulers and larger cargo aircraft.

Many things must align in these changing and challenging times for such a monumental program to succeed. These hurdles include a presidential election, massive budget cuts with military spending always a target and the seemingly impossible aerodynamic mountains to overcome.

This writer would love to pilot a Transformer or one of the advanced vertical-lift machines of the future but will probably bow to a younger generation of pilots or should I say armchair controller operators. Time will tell.

Jay Chandler has written for Pro Pilot magazine since 1995 and has flown for the FAA, military and Part 91 and 135 operators.


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