Photo: Wikipedia Commons
The Pentagon relies heavily on helicopters, but they’re burdened with limitations.
- They’re slow. The large rotor can exceed the speed of sound and bring immense drag. While it’s possible to have rotors that won’t do this, there is no known material from which to make them.
- Advancing rotor blades have greater speeds than retreating blades. To avoid an imbalance that would cause major problems, rotors must be able to move. This required “flap” becomes uncontrollable at high speeds and will cause the chopper to stall.
- Vibration from the rotors is a huge problem and an awkward monitoring system is often all that keeps a helicopter from shaking itself apart.
- Because the rotors require so much power to lift, fuel is burned quickly, while adding more increases the problem. Range is extremely limited.
The military wants its next-generation helicopters to cruise at 195 mph, have a range of 500 miles, and hover at high altitudes in hot weather. Higher, warmer air, is thinner and provides less lift. The Abbottabad heat is what brought down the stealth SEAL chopper during the bin Laden raid.
On top of this, the next-gen choppers will also be expected to fly without pilots, able to integrate various weapons systems, and have open source networking to add “plug-and-play” avionics from a variety of manufacturers.
The Army-led initiative to achieve these goals is called the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) and it expects to have demonstrators flying the skies by 2017. The goal is to have an entirely new fleet of next-generation helicopters by 2030.
Military helicopters have changed little since this Sikorsky R-4 was introduced into the Army Air Corp in 1942
Getting rid of pilots will allow the next-gens to carry more fuel and permit them to operate for more than today's typical two-hour intervals
TODAY: The Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawk transports troops and equipment to and from active battlefields
Range: Up to 320 miles at 19,000 ft
Speed: Up to 183 mph
The tactical craft, with a $21.3 million pricetag, can be equipped with duel machine-, mini- and Gatling-guns, as well as rockets and laser-guided missiles.
It was the helicopter of choice for the military's recent urban drills over Los Angeles, and U.S. special forces used a highly-modified model in the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.
TODAY: The Boeing CH-47 Chinook has carried U.S. troops and equipment into Vietnam, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan
Range: Up to 400 miles at 18,500 ft
Speed: Up to 137 mph
This bulky transporter, which can carry loads of about 25,000 lbs, is a U.S. military mainstay, famously delivering heavy artillery to otherwise inaccessible mountain positions during the Vietnam war.
It's only lightly armed with three medium pintle-mounted machine guns.
TODAY: The MH-6 Little Bird, or 'Killer Egg', is a light attack helicopter most recently used for special operations in Iraq
Range: Up to 230 miles at 18,700 ft
Speed: Up to 175 mph
More agile than the larger Black Hawk, the Little Bird can slip in and out of conflicts at speed. The small helicopter can also pack a relatively large punch with chain- and mini-guns, rockets and air and anti-tank missile systems.
Source: MD Helicopters
TODAY: The Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior's large mounted sight features a thermal imaging system and a laser range finder
Range: Up to 345 miles at 15,000 ft
Speed: Up to 149 mph
Used by the U.S. military since 1969, primarily for armed reconnaissance missions, the Kiowa Warrior has recently faced questions about its age. Itcomes equipped with HELLFIRE and Stinger air-to-air missiles, a .50 calibre machine gun and HYDRA rockets.
Source: U.S. Army
Range: Up to 247 miles at 17,300 ft
Speed: Up to 135 mph
This popular utility craft, recently used to support Marine ground troops in Iraq through reconnaissance and communications, can carry up to 14 passengers and loads approaching 5,000 lbs.
The Huey is commonly equipped with M60 machine guns and rocket pods.
Source: Military Times
Range: Up to 500 miles at 14,000 ft
Speed: Up to 184 mph
At a cost of $40.1 million apiece, the Pave Hawk is part of the Black Hawk family, specially modified to recover troops in combat zones.
Weaponry includes two 7.62mm or .50 calibre machine guns.
Source: US Airforce
Range: Up to 247 miles at 19,000 ft
Speed: Up to 135 mph
Famously appearing in films such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now, the iconic Iroquois has carried U.S. troops into conflict zones for many years.
It can be fitted with rockets, grenade launchers and machine guns.
Source: The Army Aviation Story
Range: Up to 257 miles at 21,000 ft
Speed: Up to 182 mph
These tough choppers, used in both Iraq wars and in Afghanistan, are armed with an M230 chain gun, air-to-ground rockets and wing-tip twin-missile packs.
The Apache has been criticised for being too slow to manoeuvre. It's range can be boosted with external fuel tanks that can be lugged beneath.
Range: Up to 234 miles at 19,000 ft
Speed: Up to 199 mph
India ditched its order for the Night Hunter after deeming the U.S. Apache superior, although the Mil Mi-28 is faster. It fails in both range and ceiling.
It does boast plenty of firepower, including a 110° Shipunov 2A42 cannon, 16 anti-tank missiles, eight air-to-air missiles and two mine dispensers.
Source: Russia and India Report
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.