Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Why the RAH-66 Comanche did not take off: the history of the development of a stealth helicopter

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Jul4,2024

Why the RAH-66 Comanche did not take off: the history of the development of a stealth helicopter

The US Army wanted to replace outdated models of helicopters with one stealth helicopter. This resulted in the Comanche project, which never became a reality. Peter Suchiu tells the story of the RAH-66.

Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche, stealth-class attack helicopter – former US Army project of the early 1980s.

Focus translated an article by Peter Suchiu about how the RAH-66 Comanche stealth helicopter failed to take off.

The goal of the project was to replace several outdated models of helicopters with a modern stealth helicopter. Despite an investment of more than 7 billion dollars and the development of two prototypes, the program was canceled in 2004 due to the high cost and priority of UAVs for the army.

In hindsight, canceling the program was a smart decision to avoid further investment in a potentially unnecessary platform. The prototypes are currently on display at the US Army Air Museum.

The $7 billion helicopter that never flew: Inside the RAH-66 Comanche

Two prototypes (94-0327 and 95-0001 ), currently on display at the US Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, Alabama, is certainly unique and unlike any of the other military vehicles in the collection.

While most of the aircraft in the museum's collection have been used in past conflicts, underscoring the role that helicopters still play in the military, two Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche rotorcraft – that's a whole other story.

They represent everything the US military has to offer after spending more than $7 billion to develop a stealth rotorcraft for reconnaissance and attack after more than two decades of development. It is one of the largest canceled programs in US military history.

Cold War Developments

The stealth helicopter program began in the early 1980s and was intended to replace the aging fleet of Bell UH-1 “Huey” helicopters, Bell AH-1 “Cobra” light attack helicopters, and Hughes OH-6 “light observation and attack helicopters” Cayuse”, as well as Bell OH-58 “Kiowa” light helicopters.

RAH-66 was supposed to be the world's first attack rotorcraft, created using “stealth” technology, and its full internal compartments could accommodate anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

According to Boeing, the prime contractor for the program, “first deliveries were scheduled for 2006, and full production of the Comanche was expected to begin by approximately 2010. The plan was to produce 1,213 RAH-66 helicopters for the U.S. Army.”

Other team members included Hamilton Standard, Harris Corp., Hughes Link Training Division, Kaiser Electronics, Lear Astronics, Litton, Lockheed Martin, Moog, Sundstrand Corp., TRW Military Electronics and Avionics Systems Group and Williams International. Allison Engine Co. and AlliedSignal Engine Co. jointly developed engines for the Comanche.

But the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche never reached this stage.

Although the first prototype of the RAH-66 Comanche was created at the Sikorsky Aircraft plant in Stratford, Connecticut, on May 25, 1995, with its first flight on January 4, 1996, the program progressed extremely slowly over the next eight years. It was finally canceled on February 23, 2004 as part of the reorganization of the army aviation.

RAH-66: Too Expensive Stealth and the Right Solution

If the RAH-66 were to go into mass production, it would certainly be the most advanced attack helicopter in service in any military in the world, but it would also be prohibitively expensive. : full production of the Comanche would cost about $39 billion.

“It's a big decision, but we know it's the right one,” – said Gen. Peter Shoemaker, who served as Army chief of staff at the time the program was terminated.

The Comanche decision reflected the Pentagon's growing awareness at the time that the military had more major weapons projects under development than it could afford. This has remained true even after the Pentagon's budget has grown by tens of billions of dollars since 2001, following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that launched the global war on terror. In addition, the termination of the program reflected the growing popularity of UAVs in recent years for both surveillance and strike missions.

Although some aviation enthusiasts may lament the unrealized plans, many experts believe that the decision was for the best: the future still belongs to drones, judging by their results in Ukraine. The Army's decision certainly saved taxpayers from investing in a bloated program that was better suited to the Army's needs during the war on terror.

It is also unlikely that the Comanche will find a place in the army's arsenal, despite the fact that it has once again switched to its closest adversaries, including China and Russia. The Pentagon may have wasted $7 billion on this program, but it most likely saved us from yet another expensive fiasco that is out of step with changing global dynamics, – such as the US Navy's LCS program.

RAH-66 Lessons

Despite cancellation, the RAH-66 program tested a number of helicopter systems and components on two test prototypes. That's basically all the Army can show as the result of a $7 billion investment.

About the Author

Peter Suchiu – journalist from Michigan. During his twenty-year journalistic career, he participated in the work of more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites, publishing more than 3,200 materials. He writes regularly on military technology, firearms history, cyber security, politics and international affairs. Peter has also contributed articles to Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. Email the author at: Editor@nationalinterest.org.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my natasha@thetimeshub.in 1-800-268-7116

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