WASHINGTON — The build of the Bell Helicopter V-280 Valor tilt-rotor demonstrator aircraft is 100 percent complete, the company announced Wednesday, and the aircraft is about to begin ground runs in advance of a first flight.

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.

Bell Helicopter is “within days” of beginning restrained ground runs at its Amarillo Assembly Center in Texas, said Keith Flail, the company’s vice president of advanced tilt-rotor systems, who spoke to Defense News at the Association of the United States Army’s aviation symposium Thursday.

While he was hesitant to pinpoint a date when the helicopter will rise off the ground for its very first flight, Flail said the event would take place well within the year.

[Bell Helicopter Sees Quicker Path For Future Vertical Lift]

Following a series of restrained ground runs, the company will move to unrestrained ground runs. And when everything is determined ready to go, Bell will fly the helicopter for the first time, which will likely be nothing more than what is typical for a first flight — a low hover over the ground.

More significant testing will follow over the course of a year as the Army observes the potential capability.

The other prototype’s first flight has fallen behind the originally intended goal of September. The Sikorsky-Boeing-made SB-1 Defiant coaxial helicopter is now expected to start flying some time in the first half of 2018.

[Defiant delayed: Joint Multi Role demonstrator won’t fly in 2017]

The aircraft is based off of 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.

[S-97 Raider makes hard landing during flight test]

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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