Bell Helicopter's V-280 takes its first flight in Amarillo, Texas. Photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter.
Bell’s chief executive shares the view of parent company Textron leadership that internal investment in the V-280 Valor program should sundown at year-end without new funding streams from the U.S. Army.
The Joint Multirole Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program in which V-280 is enrolled — its main competitor is the Boeing-Sikorsky built SB-1 Defiant — ends in 2019. The two demonstration aircraft were both funded at about a 2-to-one ratio by industry and the government.
“We’re continuing to do our part of the work through the end of this year, for sure,” said Bell Chief Executive Mitch Snyder. “Then we’re waiting to see what happens with the budget. When the budget comes out here in the middle of March, we’ll see where the Future Vertical Lift money lays, but at this point, we’re finishing up the funded program that we are in and we’re ready to move into the next phase.”
Snyder on March 1 spoke to a few aviation reporters on a conference call. He was responding to remarks made in January by Textron Chief Executive Scott Donnelly that internal investment in V-280 would be cut without significantly more investment by the Army in its Future Vertical Lift program.
“We have no insight into what the [PB-20] looks like at this stage of the game,” Donnelly said during the January earnings call. “At this point, look, we'll have no choice but to roll back any funding that we put into it, waiting to see what the army is going to do, because we've done what we can do.”
Snyder said the advanced tiltrotor is closing in on 100 flight hours in the 14 months it has been airborne. That achievement in flight test put the company way ahead of the Defiant, which has not yet flown. “Tremendous work has been done to expand the Valor’s flight envelope and its ability to perform 'extreme' pitch, yaw and roll maneuvers, Snyder said.
Still, he emphasized that JMR-TD was at least partially funded and there is no definite cash flow yet attached to FVL Capability Set 3, or Future Long Range Assault aircraft, for which the Valor would be suited.
“The first part of this program, the Joint Multirole Technology Demonstrator program, or JMR-TD, was funded by Bell and our industry partners as well as the U.S. government,” Snyder said. “What we’re saying there is the JMR-TD effort is coming to a close at the end of 2019. As part of that program, we were to build and demonstrate an aircraft, demonstrate the key performance parameters of that aircraft, which we are doing right now and, finally, document and make the reports on what we achieved in preparation and to inform the actual Future Vertical Lift program.”
“What’s coming now is we’re waiting to see the budget, but the next step is the Future Vertical Lift program,” he added. “What I can tell you is that interfacing with government officials and the United States Army is they are very excited and working very hard to get the budget in place to continue this effort right into Future Vertical Lift seamlessly.”