The Bell V-280 Valor. (Bell Flight)
The V-280 Valor achieved a forward flight speed of 280 knots, an important milestone for the tiltrotor aircraft that has now lived up to its namesake target speed. This speed was reached on Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Bell’s Flight Research center in Arlington, TX.
That speed is a key performance parameter (KPP) for the aircraft, according to Carl Coffman, director of advanced vertical lift systems sales and strategy at Bell. Coffman said the guidance received from the U.S. Army was for the aircraft to reach twice the speed of a legacy rotorcraft — which is where the 280-knot target comes from.
“Our test pilots were very comfortable with the handling — [there was] nothing that surprised them, nothing that was unpredictable,” said Coffman.
Coffman couldn’t say what the top-end speed of the Valor will be, stressing that Bell is “very methodically” working through the KPPs. The next stages of testing will focus on low-speed agility maneuvers, angles of bank and autonomous flight.
With the U.S. Army seeking to replace at least 4,000 aging helicopters, Bell hopes the V-280 will be selected to fulfill FVL Capability Set #3, replacing the UH-60 Black Hawk. The Marine Corps, which heavily employ the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey, may also be a customer of the V-280.
The Valor is a tiltrotor similar to the Osprey, which first entered service with the Marine Corps in 2007 and is now on its third multi-year production run with deliveries to the Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy and the government of Japan. The V-22 features pivoting nacelles to transition between forward flight and vertical takeoff and landing, whereas the V-280’s nacelles are fixed; only the rotors and drive shafts tilt.
Bell’s main FVL competitor, the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant, was first unveiled in December 2018, and its first flight has been pushed to sometime in early 2019. Instead of using tiltrotors to achieve high speeds like the V-280 and V-22, the SB-1 sports two coaxial rotors and a rear propeller.
The V-280 has reached 85 hours of flight and more than 180 rotor turn hours, according to Bell. In addition to its newly-demonstrated top speed, Bell says the aircraft has demonstrated a 4,500 feet-per-minute rate of climb, sustained flight at 11,500 feet altitude and in-flight transitions between cruise mode and vertical takeoff and landing.
“The aircraft wants to fly,” said Coffman. “We’re probably holding it back a little bit.”