FARNBOROUGH, England -- Designers with Fort Worth's Bell Helicopter are about 60 percent into building a prototype of a tiltrotor aircraft that they say will outperform the V-22 Osprey and increase its potential.
The V-280 Valor concept has the attention of Army brass, who are helping to fund its development through the Army's Joint Multi-Role Demonstrator program as a solution for the Defense Department's future vertical lift requirement. A full-sized demonstration model on display at the Farnborough International Airshow had Army designators on the side as an indication of the intended future customer.
But Bell's vice president of advanced tiltrotor systems, Vince Tobin, told reporters at the show Tuesday that the company had already begun designing a V-280 variant that would fit aboard ships' hangar decks in hopes of luring the Navy into buying the aircraft as well.
In the Navy variant, the wide wings rotate to better fit on a ship and the tail is anhedral, facing down, in contrast to the Army variant's dihedral tail, Tobin said. "The purpose of the anhedral tail is not to have to fold the tail to get it out of the way of the folding wings," he said.
The prospective Navy design is just a concept for now, but Tobin said it points to the flexibility available to the service.
"Our view is the tiltrotor technology is very versatile," Tobin said. "We know how to accommodate and we can provide a solution for just about any requirement."
There is a trade-off for the folding wing, Tobin said: It adds about 12 percent to the empty weight of the aircraft, reducing the maximum payload.
Unlike the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey, the Valor allows troops to enter and egress from the side, rather than from a ramp in the rear. While the nacelles still tilt forward to allow the aircraft to take off like a helicopter and fly like an airplane, the engines are fixed in place. This feature may make the V-280 safer than the Osprey, which has proved susceptible to engine power loss in brownout conditions.
A Naval Air Systems Command report in the wake of a tragic May 2015 Osprey crash in Hawaii that left two Marines dead found three additional episodes of V-22 compressor stall dating back to 2013, one of which resulted in a crash that totaled the aircraft involved.
While all rotorcraft are vulnerable in brownout conditions, Tobin said, the fixed engine reduced the amount of dust and dirt that could get sucked in, reducing engine life. Another system built into the V-280, he said, includes an inlet barrier filter that will keep dirt and debris out on takeoff and landing.
A complete version of the V-280 is expected to fly as soon as September 2017, Tobin said. It will fly at 280 nautical miles per hour, 30 knots faster than the Osprey.
Currently, the Marine Corps and the Air Force fly variants of the Osprey. The Marines' MV-22 variant is a multi-mission assault transport chopper that operates from ships and shore at increasingly long ranges; the Air Force CV-22 variant includes additional fuel storage capacity.
The Navy announced earlier this year that it had plans to purchase 44 of a carrier on-board delivery variant of the Osprey, designated the CMV-22B, with production of the aircraft to start in 2018 and delivery in 2020.
Tobin said the Valor could be put into production as early as the mid-2020s.
"If you just look at the U.S. Army, it has 2,000-plus [UH-60] Black Hawks, just under 700 or so [AH-64] Apaches. I think all of those are candidates to be replaced by this airframe," Tobin said. "So we see the number [of potential aircraft requirement] as 2,000 aircraft, just for the U.S. Army."
If Bell succeeds in marketing the Valor to the Navy and foreign and commercial customers, as it hopes to do, that number could double, Tobin said.