Attack helicopters hovering over Waco may sound far-fetched, but L3 Technologies has joined AVX Aircraft Co., based in the Fort Worth area, in designing a chopper to meet U.S. Army specifications with an eye toward landing a production contract.
Such a deal would represent a coup for New York-based L3 Technologies, which operates an aircraft modification plant at Texas State Technical College airport but has not historically built choppers. L3 has operations worldwide, but the U.S. Army specifically mentioned Waco in an announcement last week listing companies tasked with creating competing designs.
The L3-AVX team is one of five groups the Army has chosen to design, build and test a “Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft.” The Army will choose two finalists to build and test a prototype by 2023, with field-ready production to start by 2028, according to Army press releases. The new helicopter will be a replacement for the OH-58 Kiowa helicopter discontinued several years ago.
L3 officials have declined to comment much beyond a press release.
“This would be good for Waco and good for the company,” said Lance Martin, spokesman for L3’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems work unit, which the Waco plant joined last year.
The unit is based in Plano, employs 15,000 in the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, Italy and Australia.
The Waco plant employs between 700 and 800 people, making it a major employer for the city, but layoffs in recent years have devastated job numbers at the 900,000-square-foot complex with hangars that accommodate military transport planes and personal jets owned by foreign dignitaries.
Besides the L3-AVX team, the Army is considering proposals from Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. in Fort Worth; The Boeing Co. in Mesa, Arizona; Karem Aircraft Inc. in Lake Forest, California; and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a segment within Lockheed Martin, in Stratford, Connecticut.
An Army press release mentions Waco as the L3 site participating in the collaboration. It also identifies Waco as part of the L3 Communications Integrated Systems business unit, though L3 scrapped that designation during a restructuring process last year that created thee business units: ISR Systems, Electronic Systems, and Communications Systems.
The L3-AVX prototype “will meet 100 percent of mandatory requirements and exceed 70 percent of them,” according to an L3 press release. The companies would deliver a “safe, performance-driven, affordable aircraft capable of operating highly contested airspace and degraded environments for extended periods.”
“This FARA-CP solution provides L3 and AVX an opportunity to demonstrate the agility and innovation that sets our team apart in support of the U.S. Army’s modernization priorities,” L3 CEO Chris Kubasik wrote in the press release. “We are collaborating to deliver a prototype that provides powerful leap-ahead capability for our warfighters at an affordable life-cycle cost.”
The L3 and AVX team “will provide the Army with an advanced, lethal and affordable reconnaissance and light-attack platform,” AVX CEO Troy Gaffey wrote in the press release.
The Army press releases do not state how much the helicopters are expected to cost or how many are expected to be built. A report by breakingdefense.com states the Army wants to pay no more than $30 million for each aircraft, which will be capable of flying without a pilot on board for some missions, have equipment for controlling drones from the cockpit and be able to travel 235 mph.
The design by AVX and L3 is a single-engine craft with a wing for lift during high-speed forward flight, a fly-by-wire side-by-side cockpit, and two ducted fans providing thrust and enhancing maneuverability.