RAH-66 Comanche Helicopter: Amazing to Look At (But a Massive Failure)

Sebastien Roblin

Key Point: Another poorly managed defense program.

Pop quiz: what prominent U.S. military aircraft has a stealthy radar cross section and advanced networked sensors but has gone billions over budget and has fallen years behind schedule?

While the F-35 stealth fighter might come to mind today, in 2004 the most timely answer might have been the RAH-66 Comanche. The slick-looking stealth helicopter spent twenty-two years in development, consuming over $7 billion dollars before being abruptly canceled with only two flying prototypes to show for it.

The Comanche sprang of by the Army’s Light Helicopter Experimental program conceived during the defending spending glut of the 1980s. Among other objectives, this program sought a replacement for the Army’s OH-58 Kiowa and OH-6 Cayuse scout helicopters, which were derived from the civilian Bell 206 JetRanger and Hughes 500 choppers.

Scout helicopters were primarily tasked with spying out enemy positions and designating them for attack by friendly forces. However, they also were suitable for attacking lightly defended targets with rocket pods, miniguns, and even tank-busting TOW or Hellfire missiles, while armored Apache gunships tackled heavier foes.

Still, the Army wanted a more survivable scout helicopter to combat the Soviet Union’s huge mechanized armies, which were well protected by self-propelled short-range anti-aircraft missiles and rapid-firing flak cannons.

And what better way to outwit these radar-guided systems than with the stealth technology then being pioneered on the Air Force’s F-117 stealth jet?

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