Remember the RAH-66 Comanche, the progeny of a Boeing-Sikorsky joint venture that looked like one part Lamborghini, one part F-117 Nighthawk and two parts awesome? Many of us were disappointed when word broke that the project it was a part of would be shut down. Given its capabilities, functions and features, and its unique mission, the Comanche could potentially have been an immense asset to battlefield commanders fighting warfare in the 21st century. Sadly, the entire program was justifiably used as an example of what not to do when designing and procuring rotorcraft (or just military aircraft in general, if you’d like to apply the lessons in broader strokes) for the U.S. Army’s aviation branch. Like I said in a previous article, the death of the Comanche definitely wasn’t in vain. The RAH-66 brought forth previously unexplored ideas and concepts on the inclusion of stealth features on helicopters of the future. It also helped develop the idea of consolidating the scouting and attack missions within one airframe something we’re kinda seeing today with the advent of the AH-64E Guardian Apache and heavy attack reconnaissance squadrons in Army aviation; though to be fair, data-linked drones will be doing most of the scouting, while the Apaches do the attacking.
The two Comanche prototypes were put into storage at first, and then pushed to the United States Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, Alabama, where they remain today. They don’t fly anymore, and they likely never will again. But the Comanche and its mission still lives on in spirit!
Let me explain…
In the 1980s, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force needed a new aircraft to replace its OH-6 Loaches in the light scout/observation role. The Cayuse was aging fairly quickly, and considering the Japanese defense budget at the time, it made sense to give the helo a light-attack capability as well, removing the need to maintain a more diverse inventory of aircraft and therefore, cutting costs. The program was called OH-X, and Kawasaki was selected as the primary contractor in 1992, with Mitsubishi and Fuji both agreeing to function as sub-contractors. The final design, the OH-1, looked a heck of a lot like the Comanche, right down to the design and general contouring. Like the RAH-66, the OH-1 uses a dual powerplant hooked up to a composite rotor (four blades for the OH-1, five for the RAH-66). Both carried a Fenestron tail rotor arrangement, which meant that the rotor was built into a protective casing for aerodynamic and safety purposes. Both also used a sensor suite appropriate to their missions, fitted within an electro-optical turret. That’s mostly where the big similarities end. While the Comanche would carry its primary armament within its fuselage to maximize the use of its stealth capabilities, the OH-1 carries its main weaponry on wing stubs attached to both sides of the fuselage beneath the engines. Additionally, the Comanche carried a three-barreled 20mm Gatling cannon in chin turret whereas the OH-1 lacks a cannon. The most glaring difference between the two is the fact that the was built entirely around the idea of integrating stealth into scouting/attack missions. Its physical construction of composite materials and special radar-absorbent coatings reflected on such a principle. On the other hand, Kawasaki’s engineers decided that stealth wouldn’t be on their priority list at all, instead deciding to focus completely on the OH-1’s abilities as a fast-moving earth-hugging scout with the ability to relay back intelligence and information to various other networked assets within the battlespace (including ground and other aerial units). When operating in tandem with other attack helicopter units, the OH-1 moves ahead of the main flight, feeding back information to JGSDF AH-64 Apaches and AH-1 SuperCobras, given them a clearer picture of who to engage and where they are.
While it is somewhat of a stretch, it’s not so difficult to see the resemblances between the two. Note that Boeing and Sikorsky played no part in assisting with the development of OH-X and the OH-1.
Read more about the Comanche here: https://tacairnet.com/2014/09/09/the-comanche/