Bell Helicopter has begun placing the spotlight on a new vertical lift platform design, dubbed the V-280 Valor. Similar in concept and range to the V-22, the V-280 targets the new Joint Multi Role (JMR) application. One of the most recent venues for the program spotlight was the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC), held in Tampa, Fla., in mid-May.
“It is our new ‘clean sheet’ design aircraft,” explained Chris Gehler, business development manager for future vertical lift at Bell Helicopter. “It doesn’t happen very often that the Department of Defense asks for a completely new aircraft design, so we are working with the Army’s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate on this – our candidate for the Joint Multi Role Technology Demonstrator. And the V-280 is our offering for that effort.”
“Essentially what the Army was looking for as they sent out the [JMR TD] announcement was speed,” Gehler said. “Originally they had said 170 knots, which is really at the edge of conventional helicopters. I think as the Army looked at it more it determined that it would really ask industry to push technology boundaries a little bit as we look forward. So at the final release it was 230 knots ‘plus’ that they were asking for. So, because the Army has determined through their analysis that speed is going to be the biggest thing, that’s going to change how commanders think on the battlefield.”
Gehler said that the V-280 name of the platforms comes from its vertical lift and 280 knot cruise speed, adding, “We can go over 300 knots but will cruise at 280. And ‘Valor’ is really a tribute to the people serving in our Armed Forces today.”
The V-280 fuselage element appears similar to the current UH-60 series Black Hawk with a V-tail. The design includes a large wing with rotating prop rotors and non-rotating engine. A driveshaft runs through the straight wing, allowing both prop rotors to be driven by a single engine in the event of engine loss.
“The Army doesn’t have any problem with the fuselage of the current medium lift aircraft,” Gehler asserted. “Instead they have said that they can’t continue to incrementally upgrade and improve aircraft ‘at the margins.’ So what they are really looking to do is turn to a clean sheet that will provide a leap ahead in capability. So the leap ahead in capability that they’re really looking for is in the areas of speed, as I mentioned, as well as range, and high/hot hover capability. And really that’s what we have designed this aircraft to do.”
“This aircraft is designed to be a very good ‘hover’ machine – 6K [altitude] / 95 [degrees F] high / hot hover performance with payload.” he added. “It’s also very nimble. We have spent a lot of time with the technology in things like the prop rotors plus fly-by-wire technology that lets you do things that you can’t do with mechanical linkages; really providing very good and responsive control power in the mountains. And then when you rotate the nacelles forward you’re on the way with the benefit of the speed that this aircraft provides.”
Additional design features include dual cargo hooks that allow the lift of an M777A2 howitzer at approximately 10,000 pounds.
“So it’s got the payload capability to do that and the range to actually take it somewhere,” Gehler said, acknowledging that a payload of that weight would reduce aircraft speed to something on the order of 150 knots.
Reiterating that “the engine does not move” in the current V-280 design, he noted that “in our previous versions the engine and transmission was all in one nacelle that would rotate. In the case of the V-22, the Army started it and the Marine Corps really took it over, so we had to redesign aspects to meet the Marine Corps mission. In the case of a ‘clean sheet’ design we can take all the good things we have on the V-22 and bring that over into the V-280, but keeping in mind exactly what the Army wants to do.”
He outlined many of the features designed to meet Army needs, including an assault platform with large side doors that allow soldiers to run off and on easily while providing door gunners with great visibility and large fields of fire.
“And with the fixed engines and the prop rotors on top it creates a very open space underneath the wings to do that,” he noted. “With a Black Hawk you’ve always got to worry about where the rotor is. But the V-280 wing is more than 7 feet high – that lets warfighters just run on and off the aircraft. They can do it at a sprint instead of getting off and ‘going to ground’ because of what the aircraft is about to do.”
“Our design is also without the side external fuel tanks, where soldiers just can’t get out of the airplane easily,” he continued. “With the V-280 most of the fuel is in the wing. There is a little ‘up in the top,’ but not much. And in a self-deployment configuration you can put in fuel bags that will allow Valor to go over 2,100 nautical miles – so it has the range for ‘trans oceanic’ types of things. We can self-deploy basically anywhere in the world with few gas stops. And with that speed you can do that in a couple of days to link up with the assault force coming in on C-17s.”
Although the initial design is based on a utility configuration, some concept work has already been done on an attack configuration of the V-280.
Asked about partners and teaming arrangements on the V-280, Gehler responded, “We have not announced who our partners are yet. We are about to do that very soon. But once we announce who our partners are I think the Army will feel very comfortable with some of the largest names in the defense contracting business that we have teamed up with. It will probably be announced in June. We’ve been holding off on that a little bit as we continue to work some details on a few things. There are some ‘major teammates’ and then we have a lot of other teammates that are also onboard.”
“Bell made a strategic decision to be the lead in tilt-rotor going forward,” Gehler said. “We are a 50/50 partnership on V-22 but we will be the prime going forward on this airplane, supported by some great teammates who will bring a lot to this aircraft as well.”