Textron Inc.'s Bell Helicopter unit on Monday touted its just unveiled tilt-rotor drone program for the Marine Corps, along with its V-280 Valor tilt-rotor entrant in the Army's Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator competition.
"The Marines told us they needed a platform" with the capabilities of the proposed V-247 Vigilant tilt-rotor unmanned aerial system, but Bell-Boeing was operating on the notion that "if we build it, they will come" for future sales, Vince Tobin, Bell vice president for advanced vertical lift development, said at the annual Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C.
Tobin, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and AH-64 Apache gunship pilot, said the ship-based Vigilant would weigh about 29,000 pounds, have a 37-foot fuselage and a 65-foot wingspan -- about the size of the Air Force's medium-altitude drone MQ-9 Reaper.
The advantage of the Vigilant, based on the technology of the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, is that it eliminates the need to be land-based to provide what Bell called "lethal reach and runway independence," Tobin said.
The V-247 would cruise at 250 knots, the same as the V-22, allowing the Vigilant to serve as an armed Osprey escort, he said.
Some of the design elements for the V-247 would be taken from the lessons learned in the development of the V-280 Valor, one of four possibilities for the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator the Army is developing to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk, Apache and CH-47 Chinook rotorcraft sometime in the 2020s.
"We're on a path to fly the aircraft by September 2017," Tobin said of the V-280. "It is a very hot aircraft, hotter than anything we're flying today."
The troop-carrying version of the V-280 would carry 14, and Bell officials said they are working on a gunship version that would carry Hellfire missiles and other munitions.
Under the current plan, the initial JMR will set the standard for the building and testing of a series of next-generation operational aircraft for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps by 2035.
Bell's main competition comes from the Sikorsky SB-1 Defiant, a more conventional helicopter with a pusher-prop for added speed. Sikorsky-Boeing officials say the Defiant is on track for its first flight next year.
Both Bell and Sikorsky officials are wary of giving a projected unit cost of the V-280 Valor or the SB-1 Defiant. Chris Van Buiten, Sikorsky vice president for innovation, said only, "It's got to be a better value" than the aircraft being replaced.