WASHINGTON — Bell Helicopter’s V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft flew for the first time Monday in a low hover over the ground, according to an official tuned into the proceedings.
The V-280, which took off at approximately 1:59 p.m. CDT at a Bell facility in Amarillo, Texas, was still flying at press time. The flight is expected to last roughly 15 to 20 minutes, according to the official.
The demonstrator aircraft, which Bell finished building in September, began ground runs that month and proceeded to unrestrained ground runs over the past several months, culminating in its first flight, just one week shy of Christmas.
The U.S. Army has been planning — through its Joint Multi-Role demonstrator program — for two very different vertical lift prototypes to begin flight demonstrations this fall as part of a critical path to informing and shaping the design of a Future Vertical Lift helicopter fleet expected to hit the skies in the 2030s.
More significant testing will follow Valor’s first flight over the course of a year as the Army observes the potential capability.
“This is an exciting time for Bell Helicopter and I could not be more proud of the progress we have made with first flight of the Bell V-280,” Mitch Snyder, Bell Helicopter’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “First flight demonstrates our commitment to supporting the Department of Defense leadership’s modernization priorities and acquisition reform initiatives. The Valor is designed to revolutionize vertical lift for the U.S. Army and represents a transformational aircraft for all the challenging missions our armed forces are asked to undertake.”
The Valor is designed to meet what the Army wants for a future vertical lift aircraft: one that can go twice as fast, twice as far with increased agility and flexible payloads.
The other prototype’s first flight has fallen behind the originally intended goal of September. The Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant coaxial helicopter is now expected to start flying some time in the first half of 2018.
The demonstrator’s delay for first flight can be attributed to challenges in manufacturing its complex rotor blades for the helicopter’s coaxial design, Dan Bailey, the U.S. Army’s JMR program manager, told Defense News in September.
Defiant is based on Sikorsky’s patented X2 technology, which is also being used in the company’s internally developed helicopter, Raider, which experienced a hard landing earlier this summer.
The Army is shooting for a low-rate production goal to build an FVL aircraft by 2030 and Bell Helicopter has said many times that it believes it could potentially shorten that timeline.
The way the Army is approaching its JMR demonstrator program will likely serve as a model for future major acquisition programs where prototyping done earlier in the process leads to more capable and reliable weapon systems delivered to the war fighter faster.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.