Military Aerospace Technology Today is: Oct 22, 2006
Volume: 5  Issue: 2
Published: Oct 08, 2006

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This article was Originally Published on Feb 02, 2003 in Volume: 2  Issue: 1

New Lifeline for Search and Rescue

CSAR is a critical issue for U.S. war planners. A new helicopter is needed to get downed pilots up and back.

By Michael Peck

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Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) missions may not be glamorous to Air Force pilots enthralled by supersonically zipping their jets across the sky. But should one of those pilots eject, the most welcome sight in their eyes will be a CSAR helicopter hovering overhead.

But plucking downed airmen requires a sturdy aircraft able to carry out its mission in an environment that by its nature is dangerous. The problem is that Air Combat Command’s 105 HH-60G Pave Hawk medium-lift helicopters are aging and need to be replaced. “They’re breaking down more,” said Lieutenant Colonel David Morgan, deputy chief of CSAR Mission Area Team, at Langley Air Force Base, VA. “There is more down time and more cracks. More inspections and more maintenance are required.”

Morgan estimates that typically 75 percent of the fleet is mission capable, which is within the norm for aircraft, but the helicopters are reaching the end of their life span. “The aircraft we have are designed for 7,000 flight hours,” Morgan said. “We’ve already had one aircraft hit that mark.”

A $7 billion contract?

An Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) by the Air Force concluded that the best solution would be to replace the Pave Hawks with a new medium-lift helicopter. In addition, the CSAR fleet will expand from its 105 aircraft to 132. “Our recommendation for the AoA was to replace the 105 aircraft with 132 aircraft,” Morgan said. “That would grow the fleet so we no longer have low-density, high-demand aircraft. It will reduce operational tempo to where it should be.”

Buying 132 aircraft isn’t cheap. “This program, with full research and development, tests and procurement will cost up to $7 billion,” said Morgan. “We have dollars for program start for replacement vehicles starting in fiscal year 2005. So we anticipate meeting a milestone early that year or just before, and looking at some sort of source selection by late 2005 with a contract award in 2006. We’re hoping to have replacement aircraft with Initial Operational Capability in about 2012.”

A capable enough craft for its day, the HH-60 is a modified Black Hawk equipped with Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) and other avionics, as well as a rescue hoist with a 600-pound capacity. With a crew of five and a capacity of up to 10 troops, it has a cruising speed of about 120 knots and a combat radius of roughly 200 nautical miles—without refueling.

But this won’t suffice for the future, Morgan said. “We have identified a lack of speed, range and survivability against future threats. The aircraft is not large enough to be able to recover the number of survivors that we want. It has a limited adverse weather capability that we would like to improve upon.”  The Air Force wants a CSAR aircraft with a speed greater than 150 knots and a combat radius of at least 350 nautical miles without aerial refueling.

While the HH-60 has two 7.62-millimeter mini-guns as well as an infrared jammer and chaff dispenser, the Air Force is looking for something tougher. The new helicopter should have better defensive avionics, better defensive weapons, a more robust airframe and an adverse weather capability.

One option the AoA studied was to either conduct a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) for the HH-60, or procure new Pave Hawks. “But these alone would not do anything for this airframe in terms of speed, range and cabin size,” Morgan said.

Morgan stressed that whatever aircraft is chosen will require extensive modification. “We looked at aircraft in various stages of development, such as the S-92 and EH101. But even these aircraft will need defensive gear, avionics and then there are all the integration costs. We’re looking for more power and capability than those aircraft could produce right now. It’s going to require an awesome effort even with those existing airframes.”

For now, there are no plans to replace 26 HC-130 tankers dedicated to CSAR missions. But the Air Force is modifying WC-130 weather and EC-130 aircraft into HC-130s, which will expand the tanker fleet to 36.

And what of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), such as remote-controlled helicopters, for CSAR missions? “At this time, we have determined this is not the way to go,” Morgan said. “But it’s an interesting question.” The biggest difficulty with using an unmanned vehicle would be that “search and rescue is very fluid, very reactive and very dynamic. It is an unknown situation that is unfolding immediately.”

S-92 or US101?

The two most likely contenders to replace the Pave Hawk are the Sikorsky H-92 and the AgustaWestland US101 (a planned Americanized version of the EH101). “In the AoA, we did evaluate extensively, the S-92 along with the EH101,” Morgan acknowledged. “But we are a long off way from identifying a favorite.”

Both Sikorsky and AgustaWestland emphasize various features of their aircraft as ideal for CSAR. Sikorsky’s H-92 (and S-92 civil variant), which are just entering production, are larger, souped up versions of the ubiquitous Black Hawk. Its upgraded engines and transmission give the H-92 25 percent more thrust and power, according to H-92 program manager Nick Lappos. Though narrower than the Black Hawk, the H-92’s cabin troop cabin is taller, longer and roomier at 6 feet 7 inches high, 6 feet wide and 20 feet long.

“Basically, the 92 family uses the Black Hawk concepts,” added Lappos. “Its main gearbox fits on the Black Hawk family. What we have done is to take a set of dynamic components, transmissions and rotors that fit on the Black Hawk family. But from that point on, the 92 grows the power of the Black Hawk systems and larger cabin. It makes more or less a very large and powerful Black Hawk; a large-cabin, medium transport helicopter with both civil and military applications.”

Weighing 16,000 pounds empty and with a maximum gross takeoff weight of 28,3000 pounds, the H-92 has a maximum cruise speed of 150 knots, a maximum range of 475 nautical miles and the capacity to carry 7,000 pounds to a range of 400 miles. The cabin can house 22 troop seats. So far, the aircraft has accumulated 1,650 test hours.

Sikorsky points to the S-92, the civil version of the H-92, receiving certification for the FAA’s new Part 29 regulations governing safety for civilian aircraft. The S/H-92 is the first helicopter to be Part 29-certified, according to Sikorsky.

To meet these requirements, S-92/H-92 had to pass stringent criteria for burst turbines, bird strikes, flaw tolerance and fire safety. Part 29 “encompasses a number of changes to the concepts of helicopter components,” added Lappos. “They have to be robust and pass much more rigorous tests.”

A key requirement is the ability to survive burst turbines “which can send out 3-pound chunks at high speed,” Lappos said. “We had to protect not just the turbine, but also the auxiliary power unit and the other turbines.” Thus the H-92’s engines are widely spaced and shielded, with critical components either rerouted out of exposed areas, or provided with redundant components.

In addition, Part 29 requires an aircraft traveling at maximum speed to survive a strike by a 2.2-pound bird. “We had to build a cannon and shoot birds at the aircraft,” Lappos said.

A must-have feature for a CSAR helicopter is transportability in Air Force heavy lifters. The H-92 has been designed to fit in both the C-5 and C-17, according to Lappos. Because the H-92’s fuel is located in sponsons rather than belly tanks, it is more easily lowered. To load, the helicopter’s main gear is collapsed using an auxiliary hydraulic system, and then, still on its own wheels, is moved into the cabin of the transport. Loading or unloading takes about two hours.

Surprisingly, the H-92 does not share many parts with the Black Hawk.  But Lappos points to the basic commonality of the two designs saying, “Black Hawk mechanics will need very little effort to maintain the H-92.”

Though the H-92 only has two engines versus three on the EH/US101, Lappos suggested that a two-engine design has some advantages in terms of less weight, maintenance and operating costs. First deliveries of the S-92 to civil customers are scheduled for the first quarter of 2004, while the H-92 is awaiting a buyer. He estimated the baseline price of the H/S-92 at $15.5 million, with market share being two-thirds military and one-third civil.

AgustaWestland’s big push

Italy’s AgustaWestland has joined with Lockheed Martin to crack the U.S. market for the EH101. The US101, will be produced by Team 101, a collaboration between Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Oswego, NY, and AgustaWestland Inc., the Italian company’s U.S. subsidiary in Arlington, VA.

The EH101 is already composed of 30 percent American components, which will increase to 65 percent in the US101, according to AgustaWestland Inc. president Stephen C. Moss. Moss estimates a military market for the US101 of 200 to 300 aircraft. As well as becoming a CSAR aircraft, Moss believes it will be a contender to replace the VH-3 as the Marine Corp’s executive transport helicopter, and might be selected by the Navy as an airborne countermeasures aircraft. AgustaWestland is also interested if the Coast Guard opts to purchase a long-range surveillance and SAR helicopter, as part of the mass purchase of aircraft in its huge Deepwater acquisition project.

The EH/US101 is specifically designed for military transport, with a cruising speed of 150 knots and a maximum range—with internal fuel tanks—of 750 nautical miles. It can carry up to 30 troops or 12,000 pounds internal or external payload. Depending on what self-defense capabilities a customer prefers, the helicopter can carry radar and infrared countermeasures, FLIR, all-weather capability, auxiliary fuel tanks and aerial refueling. Guns  can also be mounted internally in the front and rear for all-around defense.

The aircraft’s cabin can accommodate 30 passengers and is longer and wider than that of the H-92, with dimensions 24 feet long, 6 feet tall and 7.5 feet wide. The three-engine EH/US101 has a strong power-to-weight ratio and one engine inoperative (OEI) performance, with 80 percent of takeoff power available for OEI, according to AgustaWestland. The EH/US101 at normal mission weight can climb at more than 1,000 feet per minute from an altitude of 5,000 feet, even with one engine shut down and the temperature a steamy 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Like the H-92, it is designed to fly in icy conditions.

While Sikorsky touts the H-92’s lineage with the very successful Black Hawk, AgustaWestland trumpets the EH/US101 as a proven design in production, and already is used as a CSAR/SAR aircraft. So far 128 units have been ordered and 80 delivered. If the U.S. Air Force buys 132, this would more than double sales.

Originally designed to replace the H-3 Sea King, the EH101 entered Royal Navy service in 1998. It is now used by the Royal Air Force, Italian Navy, Canadian Forces and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Portugal and Italy have also placed orders. Moss suggested that one selling point of the US101 is that a U.S. purchase would ensure commonality with its allies who use the aircraft, and that this would create reciprocity with European allies buying American equipment such as the C-17.

Moss believes that because the EH101 was designed to military specifications, the Air Force can easily modify it for CSAR. “It represents a unique opportunity to avoid a long process of modification,” he added. “You don’t have to spend money to modify a civilian aircraft.” In addition, Moss estimates the aircraft has a 20 percent growth potential.

The EH101 has accumulated 27,000 flight hours since 1998. Moss estimated that if the US101 were ordered today, it could be delivered as a CSAR aircraft in 30 months.

 A milestone for the US101 program was achieved in November when AgustaWestland announced that they developed and proven a process for loading the helicopter onto a C-17. “The EH/US101 is tall,” acknowledged Moss. “This presents certain advantages from an operational point of view, but in terms of air transportability, it presented a problem.”

European customers had no need for an air-transportable CSAR helicopter, but after discussions with the U.S. Air Force, the US101 team realized that U.S. doctrine calls for hauling helicopters inside transport aircraft for overseas deployment. “So this summer [2002], we undertook an engineering effort to see if we could do this,” Moss said. “In nine weeks from conception to proof, we came up with a system that allows it to be air transported in a C-17.”

In a demonstration at RAF Brize Norton, an EH101 was prepared and loaded onto a C-17 in less than two hours, including just 15 minutes for the actual loading. The ground crew removed the main rotor blades and one tail rotor blade, and then folded the tail. Special wheeled jacks were then inserted under the aircraft where flotation gear would normally be. The jacks were raised, the helicopter’s landing gear folded, and finally the aircraft was lowered back down and wheeled into the C-17’s belly. Unloading reverses the process, which also takes about two hours and utilizes the helicopter’s onboard capabilities to perform a quick systems check. “We had U.S. government representatives there who said it was easier to load than an H-60,” according to Moss.

The fit is tight—at the closest, 4 inches between the top of the rotor and the cargo plane’s roof. Some antennae will need to be removed from production aircraft, though the forward FLIR will remain. However, other variants of the EH101 would not fit a C-17, especially an ASW variant like the Royal Navy’s Merlin aircraft with sonar radome. The EH101 comes in naval, utility and civil variants.

Even with an air transportability capability, AgustaWestland is careful to note that the EH/US101 has sufficient range and durability to deploy itself without air transport. Search and rescue models ordered by Canada recently made multiple hops in a 7,100-mile journey odyssey from Italy to British Columbia last winter.

In addition to the Sikorsky and AgustaWestland designs, a surprising contender could be the V-22 Osprey. “A tilt-rotor design was considered in the AoA, but we determined that a medium-lift helicopter was the most effective solution,” said the Air Force’s Morgan. However, the Osprey is still in the running as a CSAR candidate, insisted Bob Oertel, Bell Helicopter’s director of Department of Defense business development. “There still will be a request for proposals that will go out. We still feel we’re in the game.”

Though more expensive than rotary-wing helicopters, the V-22 has greater range, speed, payload and survivability, Oertel said. “We think the ideal mix is a fleet of rotary-wing helicopters for short-range, low-risk areas and Ospreys for long-range, high-risk areas.”

Which ever design the Air Force chooses, Sikorsky’s Lappos believes the helicopter will have to demonstrate performance, maneuverability, survivability and the ability to carry systems that enable survivability. “It must be able to hover in hot, dry conditions. It must have appropriate range and be robust enough to survive hits and failures and still continue the mission. It must be able to carry the best penetration and night vision gear.”

Lappos notes that by the time the new CSAR aircraft is deployed by 2012, it will have far better avionics. “The Air Force requirements are probably going to dictate a full review of the cockpit. So what you’ll see in CSAR is the next generation beyond what you are seeing in helicopters today.”

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