Military

Bell Developing Future Light Scout Aircraft For US Army

By Dan Parsons | October 3, 2018
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V-280 Valor rendering courtesy of Bell Helicopter

Bell V-280 Egress 1. 2015

While flight testing the Black Hawk-sized V-280 advanced tiltrotor, Bell also has developed a smaller aircraft in anticipation of the U.S. Army’s need for a light scout aircraft, according to CEO Mitch Snyder.

While the Army initially prioritized a medium-sized long-range assault aircraft in the size range of a Black Hawk, earlier this year the service said it is in the market, near-term, for a light reconnaissance rotorcraft. The so-called Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA, would fill the void left by retiring the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.

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“We have rapidly pulled together a concept that we believe meets their requirements and we’re excited about that,” Snyder said Oct. 2 at a forum hosted by Defense One in Washington, D.C. “We are excited to show the Army.”

“We have a picture. We can’t show it to you, yet,” Snyder added.

Snyder did not say if a prototype is being built, but said the company is prepared to adhere to whatever timeline the Army lays out in the FARA solicitation that is expected any day. He did say Bell will likely go faster than it did developing the V-280 operational prototype, which would mean moving from drawing board to flying aircraft in less than five years.

“I think it’s going to be somewhat similar to that kind of timeline for prototypes to be flown,” he said. “If you think of the technology and where we’re going with it, I believe the technology is there. … Per their requirements, we have the technology and we can get it built to that timeline.”

A final version of the FARA solicitation was anticipated in September with proposals due in December. Between four and six awards are planned in June 2019 and then industry hopefuls will have nine months to provide prelimary aircraft designs, data and “insight required” to whittle the competition to two companies that will participate in a design and risk review.

The Army describes the desired platform as a “knife fighter” of future battlefield capabilities in a “small form factor … with maximized performance.”

Sikorsky is out in front creating a prototype aircraft suitable for a FARA role. The S-97 Raider was initially pitched as an armed scout aircraft when the Army planned to immediately replace the Kiowa. The service then decided to hand the scout role over the Apache teamed with unmanned aircraft as an interim capability. In the meantime, Sikorsky has continued with Raider’s flight test regime to both mature that aircraft and to reduce risk associated with developing its larger cousin, the SB-1 Defiant.

Snyder acknowledged that Sikorsky has a five-year head start on developing a light-scout variant.

“They actually have a flying aircraft,” he said.

The two companies are coming at the Army’s Future Vertical Lift requirements from opposite poles. While Sikorsky has an operational light attack aircraft and is scaling it up to meet the Capability Set 3 requirements for a Black Hawk-sized utility/assault aircraft, Bell has put more than 60 hours on the V-280 and will have to scale down to meet FARA.

Snyder did not say that Bell’s FARA prototype was a mini V-280 or even a tiltrotor. With experience developing the Bell 505, V-22 and V-280 behind them, Bell engineers are flexible enough to pull together an aircraft that meets whatever final requirements the Army publishes, he said.

“Everything we do is different,” Snyder said. “What we’re doing is we’re designing to their requirements.”

“Our engineering team is set up and we are continuing to push hard to be a much more flexible, agile organization that can rapidly move through these kinds of designs and developments,” he added. “Our timeframe has reduced every time we’ve done one of those.”

What was initially called Capability Set 3 is now being called the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA (pronounced Flora). Snyder said the Army needs both and is communicating that message to industry. The Army is expected to publish official requirements for that aircraft in coming weeks.

“We continue to meet with the Army leadership and they say, ‘We need both,’” Snyder said. “It’s not, ‘We need one or the other,’ or ‘We need one first'; ‘We need them both.’”

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