Helicopters were crucial to how the Army fought in Vietnam. Those tried and true Huey helicopters have been replaced by the much more powerful Black Hawk helicopter. That's called an evolution of an aircraft from an older model to a more modern version.
What the Army wants now is a "revolution."
"We've reached the limit, the physical limit of what the current configurations can do. From a speed perspective, from an endurance perspective, from an efficiency perspective...we've squeezed all we can out of these aircraft," says Richard Ktretzsmar the Project Manager for the "Improved Turbine Engine and Future Vertical Lift" project office.
Now, no one needs to jump the gun. The improved turbine engine will come first. The Army is going to be using Black Hawk and Apache helicopters for decades to come. However, it means the current power plant will be replaced with something better. "What we're after is about a 50% improvement in power and a 25% increase in fuel economy," says Kretzschmar.
The new engine for the Black Hawk and Apache would be the same weight and size as the current model. It would ensure that the two main Army helicopters can continue to do their jobs effectively. As to what comes next; "Two times the speed, three times the range, two times the ability to carry payload, and the real critical piece is doing all that together," says Richard Kretzschmar.
The craft that might replace helicopters could look much like a current model only with multiple rotors and a push propeller, or it could be an aircraft that takes off as a helicopter and turns into an airplane. That last option would be much like the Marine's Osprey, but Kretzschmar says it would be much lighter, sleeker and faster.
"I think we are going to see aircraft that are drastically different from what we're flying today," says Rich. He's part of the work that's underway right now to make it happen.