Quad-A, Fort Worth, Texas—John Garrison, Bell Helicopter’s president and CEO, uncovered the Bell V-280 Valor 3rd generation tiltrotor at the start of the annual U.S. Army Aviation symposium, Quad-A.
The V-280 is Bell’s offering for the Department of Defense’s Joint Multi-Role/Future Vertical Lift helicopter project, which could result in the production of more than 4,000 aircraft for the design eventually chosen. It will replace the U.S. Army’s medium helicopter fleet; namely the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks and the Boeing AH-64 Apaches, sometime after 2030.
Graphic of the Bell V-280 in low-level flight. Images courtesy of Bell
Garrison was keen to underline that the new aircraft is third generation of existing technology, which has the “combat proven” foundation of the V-22 Osprey behind it. He stated that the V-280 is designed to meet the Department of Defense, but particularly the U.S. Army’s requirements of speed, range, payload and reliability, for it is the Army that is the driver behind this quest for change.
While looking similar to the original Bell/Agusta BA609, now the AW609 owned and being certified in Texas by AgustaWestland (albeit still with some Bell engineers on contract), there are major differences.
The first of these is the fact that the rotor blades and gearbox tilt upward, not the whole engine nacelle during the transition from forward flight to helicopter mode. This, said Garrison, was to improve the experience for troops leaving and emplaning the aircraft when on operations by taking away the hot engine thrust. He added that the designers believed that keeping the engine in this position would assist the engineers during maintenance, rather than having the engine standing vertically as it does when a V-22 is on the ground.
The aircraft also has a V-tail configuration that has already seen use in fixed-wing aircraft (Lockheed Martin’s F-117 Nighthawk and Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk are two examples), but on the V-280, the V-tail will help to improve the aircraft’s overall stability.
The V-280 will have two pilots sitting side-by-side with two crew chiefs, carrying up to 11 combat troops in seats that will face outward toward the large six-foot doors which are designed to help them enter and exit the aircraft.
Bell wants the Army to focus on the facts that it is a tried and working technology and that the aircraft combines speed with range, something Garrison emphasized in a diagrammatic chart showing its radius of operational capability compared to a UH-60, focusing on the Sea of Japan and East China Sea (once again in deference to the U.S. military pivot towards Asia-Pacific). The self-deploying capability of 2,100 nautical miles was also underlined.
“The V-280 Valor name stands for the following: v = vertical; 280 for the aircraft’s cruise speed; and Valor as a tribute to our servicemen and women,” said Garrison.
Bell has an eye not only on the medium FVL, but also the FVL family of aircraft using its development experience gained over several aircraft: the Eagle Eye UAS, the Bell/Agusta BA609, the V-22 Osprey and now the V-280.
Type Weight Possible number of aircraft required
Light 15,000 lbs. 400
Medium 50,000 lbs. 4,000
Heavy 80,000 lbs. 400
Ultra 200,000 lbs. 100
Garrison said that the first prototype aircraft would fly in 2017 and that wind tunnel tests would begin within the next couple of months. (Note: A feature on all Joint Multi-Role TD contenders will appear in the May 2013 print edition).