Bell Tilt-Rotor Makes First Ground Test in Bid for Army Contract

Bell Helicopter revved the engines and turned the rotors this week in the first ground test of its experimental V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft, which is vying for contracts in the Army's "Future Vertical Lift" program.

In a statement, Bell, a subsidiary of Textron, said the "restrained ground run test" with a V-280 prototype anchored to the ground Wednesday at its Amarillo, Texas, site was the first in "a series of functional tests running all aircraft systems and flight controls in preparation for first flight this fall."

The test came ahead of the 2017 Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting and exposition next week in Washington at which Bell President Mitch Snyder will join a panel on "Army Modernization."

The V-280 is Bell's bid to meet the Army's requirement for a mid-sized, next-generation rotorcraft with twice the speed and range of a conventional helicopter to replace its UH-60 Black Hawks in the 2020s or 2030s.

Bell's competition comes from the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant, a more conventional helicopter with a pusher-prop for added speed. Sikorsky is now a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin.

Bell hopes to sell the V-280 to all the services, but the Army offers the biggest potential market.

To get the contract, Bell must overcome the Army's traditional opposition to tilt-rotor aircraft, which take off and land like a helicopter but fly like a conventional propeller-driven aircraft.

The Army is the only service that has not bought Bell's V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The Army opted out when the Marine Corps decided to buy the Ospreys, which were designed in the 1980s.

Should the Army choose the V-280, designed to have a crew of four and carry 14 troops, it would become the first tilt-rotor aircraft to enter operational service since the Osprey.

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