AMARILLO, Texas — In less than six months, Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor prototype, built for a U.S. Army capability demonstration, has gone from ground runs to cruising speeds of 195 knots and has been put through its paces in hover mode.
And V-280 continues to push the envelope as it flies deeper into the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) that is expected to wrap up in fiscal year 2019 when the Army and its joint partners decide what it will pursue for a Future Vertical Lift aircraft that is expected to be fielded in the 2030s but possibly sooner.
Valor flew for a small group of reporters in its first public demonstration June 18 at Bell’s Amarillo production facility, where its legacy tiltrotor — the V-22 Osprey — is still coming off the production line for the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.
The demonstration, according to Bell, was just the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the aircraft is capable of doing.
The V-280’s clean sheet design differs from the V-22 with a straight wing, fixed-engine nacelles, sliding side doors, a lower disc loading that reduces downwash and a tail dragger configuration (the signature V on the tail of the aircraft), according to Ryan Ehinger, the V-280 program manager.
Bell has had representatives from the U.S. Army on site throughout the development of the aircraft, he said.
While Bell has been moving the V-280 rapidly through key performance parameters set by the Army, it still has a ways to go before it reaches the edges of the V-280s capabilities, but it is proceeding on track, Ehinger said.
The company has logged nearly 40 flight hours in the test program while its testing and engineering team has closely monitored the aircraft’s telemetry in flight including watching thousands of instrumentation channels coming off the aircraft in real time, he added.
In the demonstration, the pilots hand-flew the aircraft with very limited augmentation to show that they are able to fly in the most degraded capability while maintaining good handling qualities.
The V-280 took off in a hover during the demonstration and rapidly climbed to 500 feet above ground level and made several passes over the crowd.
On its first pass, the aircraft reached roughly 170 knots, which is already faster than any helicopter’s cruise speed. On the second pass, the V-280 reached 175 knots, which is equivalent to 201 miles per hour, according to Frank Lazzara, Bell’s advanced tiltrotor systems business development manager who spent 11 years flying V-22s in the Air Force’s Special Operations Command.
At full rate, pylon transition to cruise mode takes 20 seconds, Lazzara said.
While not demonstrated, the company’s test pilots have reached 195 knots out of the goal speed of 280 knots, which Bell fully expects will be reached by the end of the test program, according to Ehinger.
In cruise mode during the demonstration, the aircraft showed it has a much lower acoustic signature than a V-22.
The V-280 also demonstrated a roll-on landing — which is important because it significantly increases the configurations and weights with which it can take off and land — as well as an 80-degree jump takeoff that is commonly used in tactical situations and requires less power, Lazzara described.
While not yet demonstrated, ultimately the aircraft will be able to decelerate from over 250 knots and land in vertical mode in about one minute, he said.
The test pilots demonstrated the agility of the aircraft in hover by flying the aircraft laterally across a runway at a very low altitude and performed several pirouettes that combined both lateral and yaw motion of the aircraft.
Following the demonstration, one of Bell’s test pilots, Don Grove, who has extensive experience flying V-22s, said that even on the first flight he was “pleasantly surprised” by how easily controllable the aircraft is, even in high winds, which are common in Amarillo.
“You know, the V-22, I love that aircraft,” Grove said, “but it’s more of a truck. This is more of a sports car and the agility in this thing, both in low speed… but even how agile it is in cruise mode, is really, I think, in all honesty, we don’t need as much agility as we have right now.”
Valor will continue to push the envelope on objective flight profiles as part of the JMR demonstration as the Army continues to flesh out what it wants in a future vertical lift aircraft.
In the near future, the aircraft will begin flying with the landing gear raised up to achieve faster cruise modes, Grove said. And the aircraft will be flown with higher levels of augmentation, easing up the pilots’ burden of handling the aircraft.
The V-280 will also be tested with Lockheed Martin’s Pilotage Distributed Aperture System (PDAS) later this year and the pilots will test out flying with heads up and heads down displays, according to Ehinger.
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.