Bell Helicopters is forging their 3rd Generation Tiltrotor concept for marketing to the United States Army and its Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program. Convinced that the near-future battlefield will require increased hauling capabilities as well as top flight speeds, Bell has gone the traditional route with its V-280 Valor tiltrotor proposal, utilizing elements and experience in having developed the now in-service Bell V-22 "Osprey" series currently at the frontlines in Afghanistan and Iraq. 1st Generation Tiltrotor is applied to early experimental forms such as the XV-3 while the V-22 receives the 2nd Generation Tiltrotor classification.
The original V-22 combined the capabilities of a traditional rotary-wing system (helicopter) with that of a fixed-wing aircraft. This was made possible through use of twin three-bladed rotors fitted to variable-position engine nacelles found at the ends of a high-mounted wing spar. The fuselage was held under the wing with the empennage raised to allow for a powered door. The flight deck was concentrated to the front of the vehicle with the cargo hold/passenger cabin taking up the rest of the internal volume. The concept, after a rough start due to technical issues, eventually proved sound and allowed for maximum speeds of up to 315 miles per hour while operating at 15,000 feet altitude. Approximately 160 V-22s have been produced to date (2013) through the joint Bell Boeing venture.
The V-280 represents a further development of the same concept, turboshafts fitted to wingtip engine nacelles with full rotor tilting capabilities to allow for Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL), hovering or straight line flight. However, the newer design incorporates fixed engine nacelles that sport tilting drive and three-bladed rotor systems - a major departure from the wholly tilting nacelles of the V-22. This new arrangement, therefore, would decrease the threat posed to ground personnel around the aircraft such as maintenance personnel or those infantry embarking/disembarking by way of two sliding fuselage doors. The concept includes a fuselage design akin to the competing Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk mated to a low empennage mounting two outward canted vertical fins (which would preclude use of a rear loading ramp as in the V-22). The fuselage sports a downward-sloping nose for excellent vision out of the cockpit for the two pilots while the passenger cabin is lined with large rectangular vision ports. The undercarriage - consisting of two single-wheeled landing gear legs and a twin-wheeled tail unit - would be retractable, aiding in the aircraft's aerodynamic efficiency.
Competitors to such tiltrotor designs are the hybrid "compound" helicopters which field a conventional mast-mounted main rotor along with a pair of fixed "puller" rotors along the fuselage sides (or perhaps a single "pusher" rotor at the tail unit). Both concepts adequately solve the VTOL and straight line flight issues and evolve traditional helicopter design through both the promise of increased speed and range which, in turn, serve to improve tactical value in a theater of war. The US Army is looking for a vehicle reaching 230 knots (265 mph) to which the V-280, according to early Bell estimates, reaches the 280 knot (322 mph) range. Bell suggests that the V-280 could also manage a 2,100 nautical mile (2,417 mile) range allowing it access to a majority of existing, or those possible, warzones such as Afghanistan (approx. 90% coverage) and North Korea (100% coverage). This would allow the US Army to operate without the need to call in a major transport.
The V-280 Valor concept was officially debuted at the 2013 Army Aviation Association of American gathering in Fort Worth, Texas in early April. Bell marketing material also hints at an armed gunship variant for the escort role, this version outfitted with an internal fuselage bay fielding four laser-guided bombs and outboard pylons mounting 19-shot laser-guided rockets.
Bell engineers intend to implement several cost saving measures into the V-280 design including a single-piece carbon wing assembly, efficient turboshaft engines and rotor blades and improved hover capabilities. Another challenge in the V-280 design as it exists today would remain in delivering a fixed-wing tiltrotor via long-range transport to hotspots involving American forces. Such an endeavor would require full removal of the wing and engines element(s).
In any case, the V-280 - as with its compound helicopter competitors - remains a promising venture for Bell and may very well advance the modern battlefield to an extent. Bell markets the V-280 on excellent endurance (twice that of the existing UH-60 Black Hawk line, the current US Army workhorse), improved safety features concerning tiltrotor designs (V-22 development suffered notable casualties on several occasions) and improved hovering performance at altitude.
Provided dimensions and specifications are estimated and subject to change with program evolution.
April 2016 - The basic framework of the V-280 fuselage is in place at the Bell factory. The aircraft underwent wing mating and its progress is promising to date.
December 2016 - Systems power testing was undertaken on the V-280 prototype.
February 2017 - A prototype V-280 is set to begin ground testing. A first-flight is scheduled for September 2017.
September 2017 - It was announced that the first V-280 prototype was being prepped for ground runs at Bell Helicopter's Amarillo (Texas) plant. First flights will involve the airframe being tethered. A true, untethered first-flight is scheduled for sometime in October 2017.
December 2017 - It was announced by Bell that the V-280 Valor tilt-rotor achieved its first-flight on December 18th, 2017.
May 2018 - The Valor prototype has achieved a top speed of 161 miles per hour with its prop-rotors dropped 60-degrees for forward flight. This occurred on May 11th, 2018.
June 2018 - The V-280 prototype conducted its first public flyby on June 18th at the Bell Amarillo (Texas) location.
August 2018 - The V-280 prototype has completed 45 hours of flying time to date. It is currently being tested with wheels up and its engine nacelles in full-horizontal mode and recording speeds in the 225 mile-per-hour range, mimicking its more standard operating form.
October 2018 - The Valor program continues to progress - and impress. The demonstrator has clocked a speed of 287.7 mph (322.2mph being the target goal) and has been recorded with a rate-of-climb of 4,500 feet-per-minute while also reaching out to 360 miles. The demonstrator has flown 70 hours in all with work having since been moved from Amarillo, Texas to Arlington (TX) - to which the vehicle made the flight unassisted.
January 2019 - The V-280 prototype was clocked at 280 knots (322mph) during a flight speed test on January 23rd, 2019 over Arlington, Texas.
May 2019 - It was announced that the Valor prototype had completed its low-speed agility handling test phase.
December 2019 - The V-280 prototype is set to begin autonomous flight testing in the beginning of the new year.
March 2020 - The U.S. Army has awarded Bell a Competitive Demonstration and Risk Reduction contract to cover the subsequent stage of the Future Long Range Air Assault (FLRAA) program based on the company's V-280 "Valor" offering. The aircraft will directly compete against the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 "Defiant".
August 2020 - The V-280 demonstrator has now logged nearly 180 hours since its first-flight in December of 2017, managing speeds beyond 300 knots and impressive hovering characteristics since.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
✓Special-Mission: MEDical EVACuation (MEDEVAC)
Extraction of wounded combat or civilian elements by way of specialized onboard equipment and available internal volume or external carrying capability.
General transport functionality to move supplies/cargo or personnel (including wounded and VIP) over range.
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
65.6 ft (20.00 m)
85.3 ft (26.00 m)
23.0 ft (7.00 m)
33,069 lb (15,000 kg)
57,320 lb (26,000 kg)
+24,251 lb (+11,000 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Bell V-280 Valor production variant)
2 x Turboshaft engines each featuring tilting three-bladed main rotor units at mainplane ends.
2 x 7.62mm General Purpose or 12.7mm Heavy Machine Gun(s) on pintle mounts at fuselage doors.
4 x Conventional or laser-guided drop bombs in internal fuselage bay.
2 x 7-shot / 19-shot conentional or laser-guided rocket pods OR 2 x Cannon pods at side fuselage hardpoints.
1 x 20mm fixed, forward-firing cannon under nose
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 2
V-280 "Valor" - Base Model Designation
Values are derrived from a variety of categories related to the design, overall function, and historical influence of this aircraft in aviation history.
The overall rating takes into account over 60 individual factors related to this aircraft entry.
Rating is out of a possible 100 points.
Relative Maximum Speed
This entry's maximum listed speed (265mph).
Graph average of 225 miles-per-hour.
Bell V-280 Valor operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
Max Altitude Visualization
The 3 qualities we look at for a balanced aircraft design are altitude, speed, and range.
Aviation Era Span
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
Unit Production (1)
This entry's total production compared against the most-produced military and civilian aircraft types in history (Ilyushin IL-2 and Cessna 172, respectively).
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.
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