Bell Helicopter is beginning to manufacture parts for its new V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft, a next-generation helicopter being developed as part of the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, or JMR TD program.
The program is an Army-led joint program designed to replace the Army's current fleet of helicopters.
Bell unveiled a full-scale mock-up of the V-280 Valor on the floor at the Association of the U.S. Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., in order to showcase the configuration and design of its new high-speed platform.
Slated to fly by 2017, the V-280 is engineered to reach speed of 280 knots, achieve a combat range up to 800 nautical miles and perform in what’s called “high-hot” conditions -- described as 95-degrees Fahrenheit and 6,000-feet.
Bell plans to leverage the technological gains made by its construction of the V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft now in service which was first produced in the late 1980s.
“We make the V-22 Osprey -- so with those over 250,000 hours of flight experience and all those lessons learned. We’re able to apply all of that into a clean sheet design for Joint Multi-Role Tech Demonstrator. Osprey is designed with 80’s technologies. This (V-280) is an aircraft that is more focused on the infantry squad, whereas the V-22 is able to carry 24 Marines so it is a different scale aircraft,” said Keith Flail, Bell program director, JMR TD.
Similar to the tilt-rotor technologies used for the V-22 Osprey, the V-280 Valor uses propellers attached to wings on either side of the aircraft. When the propellers are vertical and point upwards, the aircraft can hover and maneuver in helicopter mode. However, once the propellers move down and become horizontally aligned with the wings on either side of the aircraft, the helicopter can reach high speeds and function like a turbo-prop aircraft, Flail explained.
Developers of the V-280 Valor explained that the aircraft will be engineered to fly twice as fast and twice as far as today’s helicopters. In addition, Flail pointed to the range and current function of the Osprey as evidence of the kind of advantage tilt-rotor technology can bring to the military.,
“You can see what the Osprey doing around the globe right now regarding the tyranny of distance. You can see that there are some missions that only a tilt-rotor, only an Osprey, can do. We have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of the Osprey and look at those technologies to bring tilt-rotor to an even greater state of maturation,” he explained.
Alongside being engineered to reach speeds of 280 knots, the V-280 is also focused on improving helicopter-like maneuverability, Flail said.
“One of the major focus areas is having something that handles very much like a helicopter in terms of low-speed agility. We’ve done a lot of work with the rotor system coupled with the fly by wire flight control system. This will give you unprecedented pitch, roll and yaw response for those low-speed operations,” he added.
Early work on initial parts for the V-280 is now underway at a Bell facility in Amarillo, Texas. The aircraft is being built with all composite materials to drop weight and increase protection on the aircraft.
“Right now we’re past preliminary design review and we’re coming up on critical design review. This is the detailed design phase where we are releasing all of our engineering for all the respective parts and components on the aircraft,” he said.
Roughly the size of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, the V-280 is designed to accommodate a crew of four and 14 troops. Also, the V-280 is being engineered to carry payloads up to 12,000 pounds. This includes sling-loading a towed-howitzer artillery weapon beneath the aircraft, Flail said.
While designed as part of the tilt-rotor engineering configuration, the two wings on the aircraft bring the additional advantage of blocking the “rotorwash” or downward flowing air coming from the rotors. This creates a better environment for fast rope and hoist operations, Flail added.
As the leader of a joint program designed for all services, the Army plans to use the technology demonstrator phase of the effort to refine specs, requirements and functions for an eventual program of record aimed at building a future aircraft which can fly much further and faster than existing helicopters.
“If you can go twice as fast and twice as far – you have eliminated the need for forward arming and refueling points. You can basically have one FOB (forward operating base) in the middle of Afghanistan and cover the entire country,” Flail said.
Flail also added that the range of many of today’s helicopters is simply not far enough for them to operate between land masses in areas such as the Pacific.
The Bell-Textron Valor is one of two industry teams awarded development deals by the Army-led JMR TD program. Another team, led by a Sikorsky-Boeing combination, is developing a coaxial rotor-blade design aircraft called the SB>1 Defiant.
In total, Bell is developing utility, attack, MEDEVAC, Marine Corps, Navy and Army variants of the V-280 Valor.