Tiltrotor drone is in development and the target is 2023 for production

Bell Helicopter is designing a new tiltrotor drone about the size of the Air Force’s armed MQ-9 Reaper, with similar capabilities, that it hopes the Marines will buy.

They call it the V-247 Vigilant, so named because Bell promises that two of the sea-based drones could provide Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) over a given area 24/7.

The V-247 is designed to meet the as-yet general Marine Corps requirement known as MUX, an acronym within an acronym standing for Marine Air Ground Task Force Multimission Unmanned Expeditionary. Under MUX, the Marines want their own ship-based, armed ISR drone so they won’t have to depend on land-based Air Force MQ-9 Reapers to support their operations.

the V-247’s wingspan would be 65 feet – one foot shorter than the Reaper’s – and hold two 30-foot-diameter tilting rotors – each eight feet smaller in diameter than the V-22’s. The V-247 fuselage will be 37 feet long, Tobin said, and hold a single engine able to generate 5,000 to 6,000 shaft horsepower. The V-22 uses two Rolls-Royce AE-1107 C Liberty engines that generate 6,000 shaft horsepower each. The V-247 would cruise at 250 knots, he said, the same as a V-22, allowing the Vigilant to serve as an armed V-22 escort.

Two V-247s would fit inside the hold of a C-17 cargo aircraft, Tobin said. Despite its relatively small size, though, the V-247’s maximum takeoff weight is expected to be about 30,000 lbs — roughly three times the Reaper’s maximum takeoff weight. The aircraft would carry up to about 13,000 lbs. of fuel, armament and sensors, he said. It would have a mission radius of as much as 450 nautical miles, the same as a V-22, with 11 to 15 hours on station, or fly as much as 1,400 nautical miles on a tank of gas, depending on the mission. The V-247 also could refuel in midair, a Bell handout said.

The V-247 will be sized to fit on the deck of a guided missile destroyer, Tobin said. By folding its rotor blades and stowing its wing by swiveling it across the top of the fuselage lengthwise, it could fit inside a DDG’s helicopter hangar. On a stand to Tobin’s left as he spoke stood a big 1/8th scale model of the V-247 – far larger than the one we saw on Lt. Gen. Davis’s desk last month – automated to fold its rotor blades and stow its wing to demonstrate shipboard storage. Bell is expected to display the model at the Sept. 27-30 Modern Day Marine exposition at Quantico Marine Base, and at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meetings Oct. 3-5 in Washington.

Tobin said Bell could start building the V-247 as soon as 2023.