WASHINGTON — As the Army evaluates several prototype aircraft for its Future of Vertical Lift modernization initiative, one coal-powered tiltrotor is quickly gaining popularity with Congress.
“This amazing piece of machinery is something our troops just really, really need to deter clean ener—ahem, the Russians,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). “Plus, coal power is organic and all-natural, unlike processed fuels like petroleum, biodiesel, and ethanol.”
The new aircraft, dubbed the V-29 “Super Emu,” was designed by Bell-Textron and boasts twin coal-fired steam boilers, each capable of producing more than 7,000 horsepower. Designers tout the Super Emu’s ability to deliver half a fire team into the crucible of combat at whistlestop speeds in excess of 40 knots.
“Admittedly, we had to trim down the passenger compartment to make room for the stoker crew and coal storage,” Bell-Textron CEO Mitch Snyder said. “But the trade-off was worth it. The V-29 has sped through the entire acquisition and congressional approval processes in less than two months.”
Snyder told reporters that, if awarded program status, the Super Emu would be able to transport troops, conceal their deployment with billowing coal ash, and render enemy water sources non-potable—and in some places, caustic.
“It’s what we in the arms industry call a win, win, win.”
While supporters say the Super Emu will be a revolution in military affairs and a boon to the U.S. economy, critics argue the aircraft is only being considered because it burns American coal and has components made in every congressional district. Moreover, as adversaries have invested heavily in air-defense systems as part of their anti-access/area denial strategies, critics question why the Army is considering any Future of Vertical Lift aircraft as part of its modernization efforts.
“Sure, in a heavy armor fight with long-range fires and low-yield nuclear weapons, the U.S. needs to invest billions into taxiing light infantry troops to and from the front lines,” said Dr. Jonathan Northfield, an advisor in Army Futures Command. “And at close to 1,100 tons, the Super Emu is more likely to tunnel under enemy fortifications than it is to fly over them.”
Though the Pentagon declined to answer specific media inquiries, an Army spokesperson acknowledged that there were challenges to the program such as the aircraft’s weight, the limited cabin space, and the service’s difficulty in recruiting stokers, coal trimmers, and boilermakers.
“Though, honestly, I could really use a boilermaker right about now,” the spokesman said.