Bell Helicopter's New Tiltrotor Joins Field to Replace Army's Chopper Fleet
The competition for the U.S. Army’s future vertical lift aircraft gained another competitor April 10 when Bell Helicopter unveiled its follow-on to the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor.
Bell, which builds the Kiowa Warrior aerial scout helicopter and the V-22 Osprey for the U.S. military, unveiled the V-280 “Valor” at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual symposium in Ft. Worth, Texas.
The aircraft is currently in the design concept phase and has not yet flown. The “third-generation” tiltrotor should be operational by 2017, company officials said.
The future vertical lift program would replace most of the Army's aging helicopters. “It is clear that a tiltrotor is best for the FVL,” John Garrison, president and CEO of Bell, said during an unveiling event April 11. “And we have 55 years' experience with tiltrotor technology. This is not new technology. We’ve been at this for quite some time."
Most notable about the design is its non-rotating, fixed engines placed at the aircraft’s wing tips, like the Osprey. Unlike the Osprey, only the V-280’s rotors pivot up and down to allow vertical flight. This makes the aircraft more stable in hover mode and gives it better controllability than its predecessor, Bell officials said.
The Valor will have a cruise speed of 280 knots and a combat range of 500 to 800 nautical miles, depending on load and conditions. It is also self-deployable, unlike the Osprey, which must be shipped or flown aboard another aircraft when deployed overseas.
The Army’s goal is to develop a family of scalable helicopter designs that have common parts and systems. It is seeking a medium variant first, which will replace around 60 percent of its rotorcraft fleet. It will also fulfill the Army’s desired performance parameters of operating at 6,000 feet on a 95-degree Fahrenheit day.
The Valor is designed to fly with a crew of four and up to 11 passengers, which lands it squarely in that medium-class utility category. It has 6-foot-wide doors on either side of its fuselage to allow troops easy entry and exit.
“Tiltrotor is the only vertical lift platform that can rapidly self-deploy to any theater," said Mitch Snyder, executive vice-president for military programs at Bell Helicopter.
But the Valor must beat out several other contenders for the FVL contract, some of which are further along in development. The makers of the Apache and Black Hawk — Boeing Co. and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., respectively — are teaming up to build a demonstrator based on Sikorsky’s X2.
The X2 — a compound helicopter with coaxial rotors and a pusher-propeller at the rear — has flown at speeds of up to 250 knots in level flight.
It was developed into the S-97 Raider, Sikorsky’s entry for the ongoing armed aerial scout competition to replace the Kiowa Warrior. The earliest the company will have a Raider prototype is 2014.
AVX also submitted a proposal for an FVL demonstrator with coaxial rotors and twin ducted fans that provide better steering and some additional forward power. Since its founding in 2005, Ft. Worth, Texas-based AVX has picked up a $4 million contract from the Army to conduct a study on the FVL concept but hasn’t produced a prototype based on its designs.
EADS North America also responded to the Army’s FVL solicitation, but company officials have not detailed what they will offer. It is expected EADS will propose a design based on Eurocopter’s X3 demonstrator. The X3, a compound helicopter with a five-bladed main rotor and two short wings fitted with propellers, has flown at a top speed of 232 knots.
Photo Credit: Bell Helicopter, Sikorsky, Eurocopter