Warplanes: June 22, 2001

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A new GAO report expresses considerable concern over the Army's $48 billion RAH-66 Comanche program. Costs have climbed $5 billion in the last two years, and expensive problems are yet to be solved. Production is scheduled to begin in mid-2005 and end in 2026, with 1,292 Comanche's built for the US Army (and perhaps more for export). The first of 84 "low-rate initial production" aircraft won't be ready for flight tests until Jan 2004. By that time, any more problems found may not be fixed before full production begins, requiring costly retrofits later. Weight is a major problem. The aircraft originally weighed 8822 pounds, but add-ons and fixes for various problems have pushed this to 9475 pounds and it will certainly go higher. At this weight, the aircraft cannot meet its required "rate of climb" goals. The Army is seeking several ways to solve this problem. One major cause of weight gain is the new broad-cord stealthy rotor. The Army hopes it can achieve the required stealth with the original lighter rotor blades. Improvements to the engine might allow it to climb with more weight, and while these improvements would cost only $13 million, they might cause major increases in later maintenance due to increased heat. The last-ditch idea is to remove some of the fancy sensors and give them to the Shadow-200 drone (which is having a lot of trouble meeting its test requirements) or to the Apache.--Stephen V Cole

 


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