PARIS AIR SHOW NEWS: Bell Arrives at La Bourget Riding High on Army Helicopter Win
PARIS — Sitting in the middle of Bell’s massive pavilion at the Paris Air Show was the full-scale mock-up of the V-280 Valor, which was hardly surprising. The company has been hauling the tilt-rotor model from air shows to trade shows for the past 10 years.
What’s different at the 54th air show at La Bourget Airport is that the Valor is now a winner. In December, the U.S. Army awarded Bell Textron Inc. the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA, contract after a years-long, multi-stage competition to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk.
A protest from the rival Sikorsky-Boeing team followed, but after the Government Accountability Office confirmed the Army’s choice about two months ago, work is beginning in earnest, a Bell executive said June 20.
“We’re in full communication and collaboration mode with the Army,” Ryan Ehinger, vice president and program director of FLRAA and the V-280 Valor at Bell, said in an interview. “It’s about ensuring understanding of the requirements and making sure when we leave off to design the aircraft that it meets the requirements and that we will be executing the program reliably and effectively.”
Since Bell had been working on the Valor as a technology demonstrator for the past decade, it is able to start quickly, he said. “We have carried a team and we have matured that team over the past 10 years so we were able to warm start, if not hot start, this program,” he said.
But not everyone is in place. With the contract win, the team is growing, and Bell — like most other contractors — is on the hunt for talent, and Ehinger said the company will be doing a lot of hiring events throughout the United States.
Its big needs now are software engineers and experts in cybersecurity and mission systems, he said.
And all this work is occurring as Bell is working on its offering for the other part of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program, the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft. The replacement program for the OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter also pits Bell against Sikorsky.
As far as the new Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, Bell doesn’t have far to go adapting the Valor to the requirements, he said. “The key thing is we were able to demonstrate a lot of the things that the Army has been working on.” The final platform will feature the tilt-rotor design and be similar in size and scale, he added.
The Valor can fly at speeds of up to 280 knots with a range of 500 nautical miles compared to a typical Black Hawk model, which may go as fast as 150 knots with a range of 320 nautical miles. Army leaders also cited the Valor’s superior maneuverability after making their choice.
“From a risk standpoint, we’ve matured the technology. We’ve demonstrated the capability, so now it’s tweaking that to meet the requirements,” Ehinger added.
Another winning factor cited by the Army and GAO was the Modular Open Systems Approach, or MOSA, that will allow subsystems to interface with each other, and will in the future make upgrades much easier.
“We’re very proud of our MOSA concept,” Ehinger said. All of the armed services have been looking for systems that can help them easily manage upgrades, which incorporating MOSA standards helps them do, he said. The GAO in its document upholding the Army’s decision to pick Bell cited the company’s superior MOSA plan as one reason the protest was denied.
“It will also help spiral in new technologies to keep up with the pace of the threat and the pace of just technology advancements in general,” Ehinger said.
The company has also established Team Valor, its industry partners in the program that include Rolls Royce for the engine, Lockheed Martin for the mission systems and Spirit AeroSystems for the fuselage.
“It’s a pretty deep bench nationally and internationally to make up our industrial base,” he said.
“People are excited about the FLRAA program,” Ehinger said about attendees’ reactions at the air show. It has been a long time since there has been a big, clean sheet rotorcraft development program, he added.
“We’re going to deliver something to the warfighters that gives them a whole lot more capability than they have had in the past and from an industrial base perspective, it’s going to take a whole lot of people coming together to make it happen,” he said.