Bell V-280 Valor Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Aces Speed Test

The potential successor to the aging Black Hawk has excelled during a gruelling year of testing.

After extensive and rigorous flight testing, Bell’s military tilt-rotor aircraft is still surpassing performance targets. This time, the vehicle reached 280 knots true airspeed. 

The Valor is being developed for the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift program, a plan to design a suite of military helicopters for the military to replace its aging chopper fleet. The Valor is being considered as a replacement for the Black Hawk. 

Bell’s prototype has proven to have a dramatic increase in range and speed over conventional helicopters, while retaining the vertical lift capability it shares with those aircraft. “The aircraft continues to prove its performance, is well beyond legacy rotorcraft and will deliver revolutionary capability for warfighters,” according to Bell. 

The Valor is just the second tilt-rotor aircraft purpose-built for the military, after the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey being used by the Marines. The Valor is being developed as a candidate for the Army’s Joint Multi Role technology demonstrator program. 

The Osprey went through a messy development arc with delays and cost overruns—and Bell is determined not to let that happen again. That is why, with partner Lockheed Martin, Bell has put so much emphasis on the Valor’s design and testing phase. 

A key priority has been on using cutting-edge manufacturing technologies. For example, Bell used 3D printing to produce complex parts as single pieces; this reduces the number of parts, which could improve production cost and speed, minimize part failure, and speed up the testing process. 

In addition, the company’s Systems Integration Lab uses a simulator for engineers to text the systems quickly and efficiently using a combination of virtual modeling and real actuators and control surfaces. 

This design-as-built methodology and reliance on digital tools have allowed the designers to create a sustainable and affordable vehicle. “The whole idea from the beginning has been to find simple solutions for complex designs,” said Jeff Josselyn, V-280 flight maintenance manager at Bell. 

 Bell V-280 Valor – First Year of Flight.

So far the Valor prototype has completed its flights without incidents, and the aircraft has reached its targets ahead of schedule. This puts the Valor in a prime spot as it competes to succeed the Black Hawk: its competitor, the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant, only recently completed a ground run and has yet to lift off the ground. 

Bell’s next step is to further test and expand the Valor’s low-speed agility maneuvers and angles of bank. Interestingly, engineers will also be testing the aircraft’s autonomous flight capabilities. 

The Valor could prove to be a transformational military vehicle. “Cruising at twice the speed of legacy helicopters, with double the range, really changes the way the U.S. military can enable multi-domain operations,” said Ryan Ehinger, V-280 program manager. 

Read more about the latest developments in helicopter technology at Airbus Showcases Military Helicopter in Hungary