Bell's Newest Tiltrotor Could Finally Improve on the Osprey's Feathers

Illustration for article titled Bells Newest Tiltrotor Could Finally Improve on the Ospreys Feathers

The V-22 Osprey's mechanical and aeronautical shortcomings have been well-documented. That's why, for its third-generation tiltrotor, Bell has taken a good hard look at the ill-fated aircraft (one it helped design) and built the plane-copter hybrid it should have back in 1983.


Dubbed the V-280 Valor, Bell's new tiltrotor aircraft bears a close resemblance to the older V-22, which Bell teamed with Boeing to design and build for the US military beginning in the early 1980s. It's reportedly a bit smaller than the V-22 but still larger than the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that the US Army hopes it will replace by 2030.

Should the Valor platform make it to active duty, its four-person crew will be able to ferry up to 14 fully-equipped soldiers up to 800 nautical miles at speeds topping 350 mph—that's double the range and speed of current-gen choppers. It can also fly one-way routes up to 2100 nmi, allowing them to be effectively "self-deployable"—there's no need to pack them up in the bellies of C-17s for transcontinental shipping. And with the addition of two underbelly slings, the V-280 will be able to hoist up to 10,000 pounds of supplies, vehicles, and equipment as well.

The V-280, despite appearances, operates very differently than its predecessor. The V-22 rotated its entire propulsion assembly—its engines, rotors, everything—when transitioning between vertical and horizontal flight. That caused performance issues since doing so requires much more power and control to accomplish because you've got all this extra engine weight shifting around the vehicle as it's attempting to hover with some semblance of stability. The V-280, on the other hand, keeps the engines where they should be: in fixed positions out at the end of the wings with only the rotors and hinged driveshafts swiveling back and forth. This not only makes the aircraft much easier to control during transitions, it should significantly increase its fuel efficiency compared to the V-22 and provide the V-280 with around five times the coverage area of current MEDEVAC helicopters.


The V-280 made its public debut at AUSA 2014 in Washington DC earlier this week. Bell officials expect the Valor to be ready for flight testing by September 2017. [Defense Update - Bell 1, 2 - Wiki]

Image: Bell Helicopters

UPDATE: And now a response from Bell Helicopter Military Communications Manager, Andrew Woodward:

The V-22 is the safest aircraft operated by the USMC and since being deployed in 2007 has achieved outstanding mission success in deployments to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. The Osprey offers operators a full spectrum of mission capability, including raids, Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC), Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP), Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR), resupply, VIP transport, and theater security cooperation.

From the recently-released Marine Aviation Plan 2015: "In the years ahead, the Osprey will remain the nation's crisis response platform of choice in support of the 'new normal.' The V-22 has without question proven its worth by transforming rotorcraft operations across the globe. The operational reach and versatility of this remarkable platform has created tactical and strategic options where there previously were none. Building on this success is key to ensure the platforms relevance and capability for the future force."

At the Tailhook reunion this year, Lt. Gen Jon Davis, deputy commandant of aviation for the USMC, said simply that the V-22 is the most in-demand aircraft in the Marine Corps.

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The V-22 Osprey's mechanical and aeronautical shortcomings have been well-documented. That's why, for its third-generation tiltrotor, Bell has taken a good hard look at the ill-fated aircraft

Ill-fated? Are you getting your reports from 2001? The V-22 has been in service for almost a decade, and has amassed a safety record better than any other helicopter in the service.

It's still expensive and payload is limited, so there's bones still to pick if you want. But get the criticisms right. Unless you want to call the F-14 ill-fated as well, since it crashed more times during testing than the V-22 did.