Further details emerge on Britain’s secret stealth helicopter

Westland Project WG47 rear three quarter small

WG 47

Yesterday we revealed information about the previously classified British WG 44/47 studies for an advanced stealthy helicopter gunship. Today, thanks to former Head of Future Projects at Westland Helicopters, Dr Ron Smith, we have gleaned further information on this intriguing, and potentially word-beating, project. 

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The WG 37’s boat-like hull is reminiscent of later US stealth aircraft, was research information being shared?  I have no knowledge of sharing of such data from the US. There was (at that time) a combined UK Industry and government discussion group that exchanged data between all parties. I was a member of that group.
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The study resembles the Eurocopter Tiger, are the two projects linked?  There was no link to Tiger, although I subsequently was much involved with that. The UK at this point was interested in using technology to produce a Light Attack Helicopter (LAH). Ultimately, the Army wanted Apache and the requirements changed somewhat over time. At this time, we had already been looking at pre-feasibility studies and were in discussion with the late Alan Jones at RAE (Head of Materials & Structures Division – which also looked after Rotorcraft), so were aware of their contemporary thinking.
Westland Project WG45 manoeuvre small (1)

WG 45

Westland Project WG45 rear three quarter small

WG 45

The then interest in an LAH put the focus around the same weight class as PAH-2 / Tiger, rather than Apache and was reflected in the subsequent four nation funded study of A129LAH in which I played a central role.

What was the primary intended role and armament of the WG 44/47 Primary role anti-armour – missile choice TBD. (There were options at the time ranging from TOW and HOT through to Hellfire (not at that time in UK inventory) and LR Trigat (then at a very early stage).

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  1. AndrewZ

    How much value would stealth features have added to a Cold War anti-armour helicopter that would have spent most of its time in NOE flight? Whatever the shape of the fuselage, the rotor disk would have been a big radar target for enemy aircraft flying at higher altitudes and it would have mainly relied on hiding behind features of the terrain to avoid being targeted by ground forces. Would stealth have really been worth the additional cost and design compromises required to implement it?

    • Ron Smith

      Those are good questions. Like ships, you cannot make a helicopter truly stealthy, but you can make it harder to detect and thereby reduce the range at which a threat can detect or effectively engage you. You can also deploy more effective countermeasures if you have a lower base signature yourself. The main threat is ground-based air defence, where operation in nap of the earth flight and reduced visual, acoustic, radar & IR signatures are all effective.
      Most Air Forces have better things to do (higher priority tasks) with their top-end fixed wing assets, than dropping smart bombs on individual helicopters to help out the Army. At worst, you might get attacked as a target of opportunity.
      The US Army did not go down this route with Comanche (although I suspect that this was more to do with the Apache lobby than technical issues – having said, which, the programme was doomed as soon as Congress sought contractual cost, weight and performance targets, leaving no design freedoms available).
      All I can say is that life as a preliminary designer is a lot more interesting if you are able to explore new avenues like this.

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