American aerospace company Bell Helicopter has shown off its brand new tiltrotor V-280 Valor that could one day replace the US army's Blackhawk. The tiltrotor, an aircraft which lifts off and lands like a helicopter but flies like a propeller-driven aircraft, appeared firing its engines and whirling its oversized rotors for the first time during a recent test in Texas. The machine looked ready to take to the skies, but did not lift off as it was a restrained test and it was bolted to the ground.
The point where the rotors tilt at 90 degrees to change from helicopter to aircraft mode has been blurred in a video of the test.
The latest test comes as Bell continues to prep the V-280 Valor as a potential candidate for the US Military's Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programme. The tiltrotor is expected to make its first flight sometime later this year.
The FVL programme aims to replace the army's UH-60M Blackhawk, AH-64 Apache, CH-47 Chinook, and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters with new helicopter designs leveraging breakthroughs in aviation technology such as the tiltrotor design of the V-280 Valor.
The new aircraft is the technological successor to the MV-22 Osprey, which the US Marine Corps first flew in 1989. However, unlike Osprey, the engines of this mean-machine do not tilt with the rotors. Plus, a driveshaft runs through the straight wing to enable flight with both rotors even when only one engine is functioning.
The V-280 Valor boasts enhanced situational awareness and sensing technologies and can carry a squad of 14 troops, something that makes it a potential candidate to replace the UH-60M Blackhawk medium transport helicopter, which can only carry 11.
If we compare the new V-280 with the Blackhawk in terms of speed and range, the upgrade appears to be big. The V-280, according to Popular Mechanics, has a projected speed of 280 knots and an approximate combat mission range of 500-800 nautical miles, while the UH-60M Blackhawk has an approximate speed of 151 knots (nearly half) and a range of 368 nautical miles.
Apart from Blackhawk, the V-280 Valor could also serve as a viable replacement for the AH-64 Apache helicopter, although it will have to be armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles and laser-guided rockets for that job. Even the navy could leverage the capabilities of Valor for light attack, as well as anti-submarine warfare roles.
The massive tiltrotor is still in the testing phase and we could see it flying before the end of 2017.