Monster Machines: Bell's Newest Tiltrotor Could Finally Improve On The Osprey's Feathers

Bell's Newest Tiltrotor Could Finally Improve on the Osprey's 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 563km/h — 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 swivelling 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. [Defence Update - Bell 1, 2 - Wiki]

Picture: Bell Helicopters

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