The Future of Rotary Wing


Rome, Center for High Defence Studies.


  • Introduction
  • Keynote Address
  • PANEL I  –  Lessons Learned and Future : Operational Requirements
  • PANEL II  – Technological Challenges
  • PANEL III – The Industry Reply
  • Conclusions

(Notes by Gustavo Scotti di Uccio – revised 14/12/12)

The need to support the resilience of States to man-induced or natural catastrophes make modern operations, both for military, security and civil use, require the ability for operations – be they soldiers or civil protection people – to move quickly and land and take off from unprepared improvised bases. Rotary wing aircraft are the most apt for the need. They are used in a whole range of tasks. The future fleet military rotorcrafts need to meet operational requirements that can be summarized as: Lighter & Faster, Increase Payloads, Increase Lethality, Increase Survivability, Increase Situational Awareness, Reduce Crewmember Workload, Seamless & Quick Aircraft Integration. Significant increase in range, speed, payload, survivability, reliability and reduced logistical footprint are all required and can only be met through the application of new technologies. More than 200 people, of 9 nationalities (China, Bulgaria, Slovack, Germany, USA, Romania, Switzerland, France and Italy), attended to the seminar organised by the AAA Center for Aeronautical Military Studies “Giulio Douhet” (CESMA), with the collaboration of the University of Bologna and the Italian Association of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIDAA), under the auspices of the Defence General Staff and the Italian Air Force, supported by the Italian Air Force, the Center for High Defence Studies and the European Partnership of Airforce Associations and sustained by Agusta Westland, Boeing, Elettronica and Selex Elsag. The objectives of the seminar were:

  • Examine the operational use of rotary wing aircraft in various military and civil scenarios also by analysing lessons learned from the field;
  • Highlight the challenging performance requirements for future rotary wing aircraft in a globalized and complex world;
  • Identify critical technologies which need to be developed in order to sqtisfy such requirements.


Lt. Gen. AF Orazio Panato, CASD President, Introduced the theme describing the evolution of the use of the helicopter, that today is integral part of the military operations, and with its evolutions. Lt. Gen. AF (ret) Giovanni Sciandra,  AAA National President and Lt. Gen. AF (ret) Nazzareno Cardinali, CESMA Director,  welcomed the attendance, and introduced the process that it is used by the AAA to support new ideas and proposals: an example is the work done for the small satellites

Keynote Address

Gen. AF (ret) Vincenzo Camporini, former Chief of Defence Staff, IAI Vice President

PANEL I  –  Lessons Learned and Future : Operational Requirements

Chairman Introduction: Mr. Tony Duthie, Agusta Westland ((presentation here: 121122.04)). The questions: what future landscape will be in the next year? What will be the demands of future operational environments? How this will affect the rotary wing operations? Lessons learned starting from the Vietnam War has shown the improvements of the helicopter capabilities till the last tilt-rotors technologies and the helicopters UAVs. The Italian, German and French views has been presented by Cdr. Onofrio Marco Frumusa, ITA Navy Staff, Col. Roberto Preo, Air Staff, Col. Christian Leitges, German Air Force Command and Col. Henry Sowa, French Air Force. – they introduced the current status and future goals and requirements.

  • Italian Navy: (121122.05 Frumusa brief here) Anti-terrorism, Immigration MNTR, Anti-piracy Emergency and Relief are the growing future requirements. ITN is planning a large restructuring of its airborne component that is mainly based on the EH101 (22 expected) and NH90 (56 expected): the EH101 role is very wide, including also a new “maritime patrol helicopter” function thanks to the 5.5 hour endurance capability. They need to boost interoperability and multi-mission capability, improvements in sensors fusions with automatic detection and net centricity and also longer range sensors.
  • Italian Air Force: (121122.06 Preo brief here) Increase of optimized endurance, readiness, “crash protection”, precision navigation system, together with day/night operation capability, and quick reconfiguration in SAR/Casevac-Medevac/Transport are expected: new avionics should include Low Visibility Landing, Obstacle Clearance and AAR capabilities. The ITAF fleet is based on HH3F, HH212 and HH139A; they mainly provide SAR for military assets, Personal Recovery including also Non-Conventional Recovery, Air Support Operations including JSOATG, Slow Mover Interceptors (within the air defence system) and also concur in calamities. In future, HH3F is in the phase-out process and will be replaced by the entering in service of the HH101 and the AW149 that will be operational starting 2020.
  • Luftwaffe: (Leitges brief here 121122.08) the presentation was based on the ISAF experience, the analysis based on CH53 GS in Afghanistan, for Log Air Transport and Tactical Air MedEvac shown that weak points were no FLIR presence, tight inspection interval and dust. The Luftwaffe restructuring program and new requirements, driven also by budgets restrictions, plans for a change from orientation on enemy air potential to effect based, linked and joint operations; the restructuring will be also phased between the Army and the Airforces Rotary Wings. Main future capability requirements are Air Transport, Personnel Recovery (SAR CombatSAR and Non-conventionalAssistedR, CombatRecovery) and Tactical MedEvac.
  • French Air Force: The new CIH, Command Inter forces pour Hélicoptères is the new entity that is analyzing the new requirements and capabilities requested for the rotary wing component. At present the required functions are the classical SAR, Security, Air to Ground support: to be noted that those operations there are also to be interconnected and linked to other requirements, like intelligence, AWACS and AAR. Air policy to be used during large events (G8, Olympic Games, NATO meeting etc) is a new capability that the FAF has developed. For the future, a better mission data exchange and communication capability are envisaged, together with the CBRN and the self protection. The new HIL (light helicopter) will allow the ‘plug and fly’ capability, with an integrated Electronic Warfare, and a reduced pilot workload.

PANEL II  – Technological Challenges

Under the chairmanship of Prof. Franco Persiani, University of Bologna, the panel speakers were Mr. Riccardo Bianco Mengotti, Agusta Westland, Prof. Marco Borri, Politecnico di Milano, Aerospace Engineering Dept. and Dr Dominique Tristrant, Unit Head of Flight Mechs for Rotorcraft,  Department of  Systems and Controls, ONERA Dr. Layne B. Merritt, US Army, Aviation & Missile Research,  Development, and Engineering Center, Mr. Vincenzo Pennetta, EASA, Ing Alessandro Paglialunga, GEMAC Project

With an intervention on Technological Challenges for the Future of Rotary Wing, the Agusta-Westland Path to the New Generation TiltRotor was presented. (Mengotti brief  here 121122.11) He explained why the helicopter role, after 75 years from its introduction invention is still invaluable: on the other hand, due to the “young machine”, the design of a new helicopter is still a highly creative challenge. The development of new helicopter has to solve some barriers e.g. the limitation due to the asymmetry, the rules of air traffic management due to the low speed etc: several solution are under study to solve the yaw control, and the propulsion mechanism. The AW609 solution is the AW answer to many aspects: the operational capability, budget constraints, different roles, riding quality.  The tilt rotor started its experimentation in 1955, but only in 1993 the first commercial machine has been developed. The tilt rotor is a versatile platform combining the best characteristics of helicopter and turbo prop aircraft. The next generation will exploit new technologies e.g with smaller blades, new materials.

Talking about middle and long term technological requirement for rotary wing, the second presentation (121122.12 Borri brief here) has shown the changes between the 1950-2000 timing, time without budget limitation, and 2010- 2020 with huge budget limitations. Also great differences in the approach exist among the US and the European industrial environment. For the future, three families are envisaged: helicopters, compound helicopters and tilt rotor. The three configurations will allow different operations, covering most of the future requirements. The Politecnico di Milano, with about 2000 students and 50 professors, provides the 3 levels (Laurea, Laurea Magistrale and PHD in Rotary wing A/C.) of university degrees. It disposes of several labs, including a large wind tunnel (the largest in Europe). ONERA-DLR (Tristrant brief here 121122.13) presented current Studies on Rotorcraft Platform and its Operational Capabilities with few examples of technological achievements. They worked in Testing, Aerodynamics, Aero-acoustic, Active Rotor Control, Flight Mechanics, Safety, All Weather etc. as well as on Human Factors to reduce workload, improve awareness and propose new visual aids, and, finally on vulnerability tests. Looking at future, the key issues are efficiency and safety, expanding the flight domain in adverse conditions, improving efficiency in operation and addressing environmental requirements. The US Army RDECOM (Merrit brief here 121122.14) Science and Technology Efforts for Future Rotorcrafts has been described in the analysis of the existing and future vertical lift: the current design is based on ‘70s technology. The desired future capabilities, at least for the medium sized helicopters, has the following main objectives: increased endurance, speed, range and “altitude”, fuel efficiency, communality etc. special focus was devoted to the study of DVE (degraded visual environment). The ARMY S&T present focus areas are Platform (54%), Mission systems(21%), power(15%), operation & support(7%), concept design and evaluation(3%). Finally the increase of international cooperation has been suggested. Helicopter Safety Issues Mitigation has been presented by the EASA (Pennetta brief here 121122.15) representative. EAASA EU Agency objective is the establishment and maintain of high uniform level of civil aviation in Europe. Inside EASA, the European Helicopter Safety Team (EHEST) assessed a series of technologies that they feel are important for the mitigation of safety issues. Examples are sensor based systems for obstacles avoidance, avionics, etc. . The team rated the technologies against safety issues using impact and usability (short, medium and long term) criteria. Last panel presentation subject was devoted to the GEMAC Project, (Paglialunga brief here 121122.16) that, sponsored by Regione Lazio, links in a industrial network the capabilities and expertise of different industrial entities. They are working on a better target positioning. The project will be completed by the end of 2013.

PANEL III – The Industry Reply

Chairman of the panel was Maj. Gen. Fabio Molteni, Commander AF Center for Experimental Flight: he approached the theme from the operational requirement, and the practical approach; there are some issues, safety, crash survivability, noise, radar signature, are to be solved. Panellists were Mr. Oris E. Davis, Boeing, Maj. Massimo Schiavinato, Elettronica, Mr. Valentino Alaia, CEO K4A (Knowledge for Aviation) and Mr. Pietro Carlo, Selex Elsag Rotorcraft. Back to the Future was the title of the Boeing presentation: (121122.18 Davis brief here) he presented an interesting picture of the progress done since the ‘50s and ‘60s, but, the speaker said, the majority of new concepts under development today are very often based on old ideas, developed using new technologies.The new Joint Multirole Project has to maximize communality to improve affordability in the different roles, from Attack to Utility. On the other side, the market is going to be smaller, and competition will be more intense, with other countries – china, brasil,Russia – presenting their platform. He also presented some examples of next generation rotorcrafts (video ULOR scenario here) (video DiscRotor mission here). “EW New Challenges on Field” was the subject of the ELT presentation. Lesson learned from Afghanistan, Iraq and Lybia the IR threat and the MANPAD where the most dangerous. This gives a good reason to consider this experience as a driving factor for priority threat and explore how to reduce it. The areas impact with the RF, where the ECM can be effectives, ElectroOptical scenario, where the IR countermeasure can be used. An EW manager is needed to permit Data Fusion, Situation Assessment and Response Determination. In future, the presentation concluded, the Network Centric solutions should be considered. K4A presented (Alaia brief here 121122.20) a New Generation of Light Rotorcrafts: this ambitious helicopter, integrates several innovations, as the two parallel diesel (automotive gasoline) engines and the hybrid (hydraulic and electric engine) rear blades. The last presentation (Carlo brief here 121122.21) of the panel focussed the Degraded Visual Environment when flying at Low Altitude. A Laser Obstacle Warning System will provide the crew with obstacle warning.


CESMA Director, Lt. Gen. Nazzareno Cardinali summarized the workshop with some comments: the rotary wing, in the past, was considered less important (17%) in respect to the fix wing (83%). The strategic scenario is changing and the rot wing is increasing its importance. The requirements for the future are demanding more Combat SAR, Manoeuvrability, Pilot Workload Reduction, Speed, Range. He concluded with special thanks to be given to Gen Panato and the Conference organizers.

In his closing speech, the IT Chief of Air Force, Gen. Giuseppe Bernardis, highlighted the challenges to tackle in the near future, the most important is: “how the national military forces will progress in the forthcoming operational scenarios with the increasing difficulties to sustain budget needs?”

The readjustment of the Defense lines of developments is now based upon a radical change in approach from the past “capabilities driven” to that of “finance-driven”.

In order to do this it is necessary to create an appropriate balance of forces and structures ready to respond to both the national and the international needs, through a gradual technological upgrade in line with the available budget: this process has to parallel the reduction in numbers (manpower and assets).

The air component, with regard to the peculiarities or rotary wing, will continue to be characterized by the specific capabilities offered by tactical transport, Search And Rescue, Combat SAR and Combat Recovery, namely Personnel Recovery (PR).

Furthermore “we are witnessing the arise of specific threats, he said, immediately directed against the national forces that require quick response in all operating conditions, including the use of “surgical” interventions, based on adequate discriminating systems and target acquisition technologies.

Rotary wing platforms have gone from being predominantly transport addressed, to the means of attack addressed with possible further developments in the field of unmanned or remote controlled helicopters.

Considering the national context, which includes the reorganization of the activities of the SAR National Service in favor of the civil aviation, there is the need for a renewal of the rotary-wing component of the Air Forces. He said: “It is impossible to postpone the modernization of the platforms, even if he lack of financial resources has caused some slowdowns of new development programs.

In this climate of “austerity”, he concluded, the Air Force has taken up with pride the most difficult challenge in order to meet, on the one hand, all the commitments of international institutional character, on the other hand, upgrading technology and quality.

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