Boeing unveils FARA contender

Boeing Defense has officially unveiled its offering for the US Army's Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme.

The aircraft – which the company describes as agile, purpose-built and “designed to meet the Army’s current mission needs while evolving as technologies and missions change” – was unveiled on March 3. 

Boeing FARA Concept Art
Concept art of the Boeing FARA. Boeing

Dubbed Boeing FARA, the helicopter follows a thrust-compounded single main rotor design and employs a six-bladed rotor system, which will be powered by a single GE Aviation T901-900 turboshaft engine. The T901-900 powerplant was the winner of the US Army’s Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) and will be the system to power the service’s desired FARA solution. The company also boasts that the platform will feature a modular, state-of-the-art cockpit with a reconfigurable large area display in a tandem-seated configuration. It adds that the aircraft will also have autonomous capabilities.

Mark Cherry, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Phantom Works, said: “We’re offering more than a helicopter – we’re offering an affordable and fully integrated system for the army, the mission and the future. We’ve blended innovation, ingenuity and proven rotorcraft experience with extensive testing and advanced analysis to offer a very compelling solution.”

Boeing FARA at night

The most unique thing about Boeing’s FARA submission is its use of three separate rotor systems, comprising of a single main rotor, a pusher propeller and a traditional tail rotor. According to Boeing, the employment of three rotors provides greater agility and manoeuvrability. The main rotor consists of a hingeless six-bladed system, while the tail rotor follows a more conventional four-bladed system to combat torque and provide improved low-speed manoeuvrability, with the four-bladed pusher propeller providing the additional thrust needed for high-speed flight as well as low-speed manoeuvrability.

The platform also follows a fly-by-wire design, which the company says “leverages more than 65 years of rotorcraft experience, proven advanced and addictive manufacturing technology, and product commonality driving down risk and costs.” Adding that it will provide a seamless capability within the US Army ecosystem to allow for the integration of Long-Range Precision Fires and Air-Launched Effects (ALE).  Boeing will also employ a predictive health management system which can adapt to degraded conditions using real-time diagnostics, real-time tactical maintenance and live aircraft interface capabilities.

Boeing FARA on land

Shane Openshaw, Boeing FARA programme manager, said: “We listened to the army, assessed all alternatives, and [optimised] our design to provide the right aircraft to meet the requirements… We are offering a very reliable, sustainable and flexible aircraft with a focus on safety and the future fight.”

Boeing FARA is the company’s first all-new helicopter design in years; but the company has not been absent from the rotorcraft field, routinely managing its CH-47 Chinook and AH-64D/E Apache products and working with Bell in producing the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor. It has also partnered with Sikorsky to develop the SB>1 Defiant – which will be the two companies’ submission into FARA’s sister project, the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) programme, that will kick-start soon. 

Boeing FARA in combat

FARA falls under the US Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) portfolio, which is led by the service’s Futures Command. The competition seeks to design, produce and test a prototype that will fill a capability gap caused by the retirement of the army’s Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior light attack/reconnaissance helicopter fleet in 2017 – a gap which is currently being covered by AH-64D/E attack helicopters.

Now that Boeing has unveiled its FARA proposal, each of the five contending companies have publicly announced their respective candidates. AVX Aircraft has teamed up with L3Harris Technologies to offer the Compound Coaxial Helicopter (CCH) and Bell has partnered with Collins Aerospace in proposing the 360 Invictus. Karem Aviation has joined forces with Northrop Grumman and Raytheon in offering the AR40 and Sikorsky has offered its Raider X compound coaxial helicopter to fulfil the FARA requirement. For more information on the other candidates, follow the link to read: “The Future is FARA” – as published in the March edition of AIR International.