After three years of record-breaking flight, Bell’s V-280 Valor technology demonstrator is being retired as the company focuses on pitching the U.S. Army a replacement for the Black Hawk.
Since its first flight on Dec. 18, 2018, the V-280 advanced tiltrotor has logged 214 hours in the air and met a number of ambitious speed and agility goals set by the Army under the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program. It is one of two prototype aircraft whose successors will compete to become the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA).
That competition is expected to formally begin with the Army releasing a Request for Proposals this summer.
Bell in a June 24 statement says it is “transitioning focus to the critical next phase of the competition supporting Army modernization.”
The V-280 technology demonstrator completed all planned Key Performance Parameters including low-speed agility, long-range cruise, 305 knot high-speed flights, and rapid mission systems integration during this test period. Five Army Experimental Test Pilots have flown the V-280 over 15 sorties. Bell also hosted soldiers during “soldier touchpoint” where pilots, mechanics, and infantry squads got hands-on experience with the aircraft.
“The FLRAA challenge presented by the U.S. Army was unattainable using helicopter configurations. They have been clear about the need to modernize and field transformational capabilities,” Keith Flail, executive vice president for advanced vertical lift systems at Bell, said in a statement. “We assessed several vertical lift technologies and determined the tiltrotor to be the only solution to the agility, range, and speed requirements of a Long-Range Assault Aircraft that can meet the cost, timeline, and risk profile required for a successful acquisition program. Bell and our Team Valor teammates could not be more proud of the V-280’s record of performance in close collaboration with the U.S. Army throughout the JMR TD and CD&RR to date. Our team is committed to providing the Army the highest performance and flight-proven option to move into the FLRAA program of record.”
The V-280, which improved upon the Bell-Boeing V-22 with its tilting nacelles — rather than the V-22’s tilting engines — or an evolution of that design, is up against Sikorsky’s Defiant X compound coaxial helicopter for the FLRAA competition. As Sikorsky plans to build an evolution of its SB>1 Defiant to compete for FLRAA, Bell will construct a new aircraft based on Valor for that competition. The Army plans to field one or the other as a replacement for the UH-60 Black Hawk in the mid- to late-2030s.
“We have come a long way since we started our journey eight years ago. We made commitments, we safely executed our program on time, and we validated our performance claims and the accuracy of our digital models through flight demonstrations,” said Ryan Ehinger, Bell’s vice president and program director for FLRAA. “Ultimately, the Army doesn’t send warfighters into battle riding in the back of digital models and so we thought it was important to bring that physical proof. This next-generation aircraft technology provides a proven foundation, the ‘truck,’ for the employment of our open architecture digital backbone to provide maximum flexibility for the Army to sustain their mission systems in a way that makes sense for them. It also empowers them to ensure their long-term interoperability in future Joint All-Domain Operations.”