One of the contenders to replace the iconic UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter hit a major milestone late last week when it flew in cruise mode for the first time. The V-280 Valor tiltrotor flew like a fixed wing airplane, a flight mode that gives it a major speed boost over conventional helicopters.
The flight took place on May 11th at the Bell facility in Amarillo, Texas. In cruise mode, the tiltrotor aircraft rotates its engine nacelles forward to zero degrees for forward flight. The hit a top speed of 190 knots during testing. That’s about as fast as current helicopters, including the and the .
As fast as that is, Bell thinks the V-280 can hit speeds of 280 knots, or up to 322 miles an hour. That’s nearly twice as fast as the Apache and Black Hawk. In practical terms, that means U.S. troops that can respond faster than the enemy, supplies get to beleaguered friendly forces sooner, and whisk injured soldiers to medical attention faster.
Bell is developing the V-280 to address the Army’s Future Vertical Lift - Medium program, which . The Army will procure more than one size airframe, and the medium airframe will likely be the basis for both Apache and Black Hawk replacements. The medium transport offering will probably be very similar to the existing Valor, while the attack version could equip a nose-mounted gun and pylons on the wings for rockets and anti-tank missiles.
The Valor should improve on the UH-60M Black Hawk on several fronts. The Valor is almost twice as fast, and can carry 3,000 pounds more of cargo than the UH-60M. It has a combat range of 500 to 800 miles, roughly double the combat range of the latest Black Hawk, and at 2,100 nautical miles nearly double the self-deployment range. Finally, it can carry fourteen fully-equipped infantrymen at once, versus 12 for the UH-60M.
The Army wants new propulsion technologies for the Future Vertical Lift program, and none of the prospective candidates use a conventional helicopter layout. Although a tiltrotor, the V-280 uses a different technique to switch between helicopter and conventional forward flight modes: while the older V-22 Osprey tilts its entire wing to rotate the rotors, the V-280 merely rotates the engine pylons.
The V-280 Valor first flew in December 2017. Since then Bell says the Valor has flown for 27 hours, with over 90 hours “turning rotors” both in flight and ground tests.