As the Pentagon considers the future of military vertical lift, Bell Helicopter is talking with the US Navy and Air Force about designing a next-generation tiltrotor solution that could be ready by 2025.
Bell is partnered with Lockheed Martin to build a rotorcraft flight demonstrator as part of the US Army’s Joint Multi-Role program, which will gauge the art of the possible for the path ahead. The demonstrator program will inform the Army’s Future Vertical Lift effort to buy a new state-of-the-art family of helicopters in the 2030s.
The Bell-Lockheed team is offering its V-280 Valor tiltrotor, which builds on the technology developed for Bell-Boeing’s V-22. The competing team, made up of Sikorsky Aircraft and Boeing, is working on a coaxial helicopter known as the SB-1 Defiant for the demonstrator effort.
Although the demonstrator prototypes will fly in 2017, the Army is not planning a contract award until the late 2020s, Harris said. But he stressed that company officials believe the Bell-Lockheed team could achieve initial operational capability by 2025.
“It wouldn’t be with the Army then, unless we could get the Army to come to the left,” Harris said. “The other services are already thinking ahead of the power curve, and they are thinking that they can move that to the left. We can actually be in full-rate production of this aircraft for another service by 2024 or 2025.”
Bell’s goal is ultimately to replace all the Pentagon’s helicopters with the V-280, Harris said, touting the plane’s speed and flexibility. The Valor will have twice the speed and range of the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk, more than doubling operational reach, according to Bell’s website. The future plane will also outperform the V-22, Harris said, with a combat radius of 1,200 nautical miles compared to the Osprey’s 900 nautical miles.