By Bijan Razzaghi
On December 18th 2017 the first test flight of the Bell V-280 Valor took place. The V-280 program is a prototype for the Army’s FVL (Future Vertical Lift) program designed to replace the AH-64 Apache Attack helicopter and the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from service. The common platform of the V-280 will allow for a troop transport variant and an attack variant where the troop cabin will be replaced with ammunition stores. The V-280 is the second US military tilt rotor VTOL platform. The tilt rotor allows the aircraft to fly like an airplane and cruise at speeds of up to 300 mph, while being able to also hover and take of and land like a helicopter. The MV-22 and CV-22 Osprey platforms already have this capability.
The primary design differences of the V-280 Valor compared to the existing Osprey is the engines do not move while the aircraft is switching from airplane mode to helicopter mode, only the rotors move. This design feature allows for improved versatility and safety compared to the Osprey also produced by Bell. The V-280 transport model will be able to transport 14 troops and carry the M-777 howitzer into battle. If the V-280 is chosen specialized variants will likely be produced to fill in the rolls currently held by M/UH-60 Blackhawks and HH-60 Night Hawks. Special Operations forces would likely adopt a V-280 Variant capable of inflight refueling and with a terrain following radar, while the Navy would likely adopt a variant capable of deploying MK-54 torpedoes and operating Sonar.
An attack variant of the V-280 valor is planned as well if the aircraft is chosen for production to replace the AH-64 Apache and even the AH-1Z Viper. The AV-280 would replace the troop cabin with a bay door to deploy AGM-114 Hellfire Missiles and be equipped with Rocket pods to deploy Hydra and Zuni Rockets. Concepts also show the aircraft being armed with a nose mounted chain gun. The V-280s design does not seem to show a tandem arrangement yet with the Cobra and Huey platforms it is possible a tandem seating arrangement could be adopted. At the moment concepts have only showed side by side seating for the pilot and copilot on attack variants.
The need for a platform such as the V-280 Valor and the FVL (future vertical lift program) comes form the increased vulnerability of attack helicopters in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Helicopters operating over urban areas have become vulnerable to AAA fire and MANPADs. V-280s flying at speeds of 300 mph and at higher altitudes would be safer from these threats while performing attack runs and insertions.
It will be sometime until the Army and other branches decide which platforms to produce and adopt for the FVL program Lockheed Martin’s S-2 pusher propeller technology has been very impressive in its ability to have the speed of a tilt rotor yet maintain the size and common design features of a helicopter. If the V-280 Valor platform is chosen Bell estimate’s its cost to be the same as the AH-64E and UH-60M platforms currently in production.