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Maneuvering close to rugged terrain at low altitudes, moving faster than 300 knots in the lower tier air domain, flying more than 350 nautical miles on a single mission without refueling and using helicopter-like agility to mass combat power on a landing objective while under enemy fire, are all specific attributes built into Bell’s V-280 Valor long-range air assault platform, demonstrated in flights tests by its developers.
As one of two prominent industry offerings along with Boeing-Sikorsky’s Defiant X, Bell’s V-280 represents an effort to engineer new, paradigm-changing tiltrotor technology. Creators of the V-280 envisioned a new tiltrotor configuration able to blend airplane-like speeds with a helicopter-like ability to hover and maneuver close to the ground.
Combining an ability to mass combat power with unprecedented speeds can introduce new tactical dynamics, such as an ability to conduct surprise attacks, rescue injured soldiers faster and conduct multiple quick-strike air assault raids in close coordination. Bell’s V-280 is engineered to bring this mass-speed combination into operational combat by optimizing speed and agility.
Harvesting lessons learned over decades of successful tiltrotor performance with the V-22 Osprey, Bell engineers embarked upon a mission to architect a high-speed, long range utility aircraft capable of unprecedented aerial agility in an airframe capable of landing within the same footprint as the existing Army UH-60 Blackhawk. While the Osprey has massed combat power over extended ranges for years, developers of the V-280 sought to advance upon the tiltrotor technology to converge lethal power at extended ranges and high speeds.
The intent is to ensure revolutionary operational reach with 305 knot-speeds and a combat mission range greater than 350 nautical miles does not preclude or limit the Valor’s ability to mass concentrated power where and when the ground force commander needs it.
The ability to mass combat power quickly is key to success in conflict, where every minute matters. Tiltrotors greatly increase the ability to mass infantry power and weapons on an objective and a V-280 formation can close on an objective quickly, from unprecedented distances with an exceptionally low acoustic signature. That formation can land in the same landing zones used by Blackhawks as dictated by the 101st Airborne Division’s Gold Book standard, making it fully possible for the V-280 Valor to deliver large numbers of infantry quickly, at the point of need for the ground commander force while maintaining the element of surprise far longer than an aircraft with a loud propulsor and main rotor system projecting edgewise noise.
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While the V-280 is a tiltrotor aircraft with dual proprotors at the ends of a wing, the aircraft has been designed to land in the same size footprint as a Black Hawk and fit into a standard Army Aviation hangar space. Recognizing the need to mass combat power quickly from long range upon an objective and in a close proximity formation, Bell developers designed the aircraft specifically to operate in the same formations as the legacy fleet if need be but also allow the Army to operate in a variety of other tactical formations. This can in large part be accomplished through what developers describe as an “envelope of performance” unique to the V-280 tiltrotor design.
“The uniqueness in a tiltrotor with two smaller rotors is that they do not have the rotor system hanging out in front of the nose of the aircraft, nor do they have tail rotors or pusher props in the back of the aircraft. This allows the tiltrotor formation to land in the same space required by the 101st’s Gold book standards and more comfortably land closer to each other, nose to tail. If we were in a confined area we could still land in the same footprint as a UH-60, we might need to land in a different axis,” Frank Lazzara, Director FLRAA Sales & Strategy, Bell.
As a former Osprey pilot, Lazzara explained how maintenance performance with the V-22 was used to closely study the configurations and technologies woven into the new aircraft, with a mind to ultimately engineer a new, clean-sheet design, next-generation tiltrotor.
“Through those cycles of learning, we learned how to build more performance into a smaller tiltrotor with increased agility and a straight wing. The fixed engine allows you to have a crew served weapon for defensive purposes. How can you not be better if you have a proven capability and decades of actual operational use to apply to a clean sheet design,” Lazzara explained.
What about an ability to operate under enemy small arms fire and land in a “hot LZ” as it's called? Naturally speed and agility in these circumstances greatly reduce vulnerability to enemy fire, but in addition to that Bell developers explain their tiltrotor has exceptional high speed maneuvering capabilities made possible by having a wing as the primary lifter in high-speed flight that provides an advantage for avoiding enemy engagements. When you are slow and close to the objective, the aircraft maneuvers better than a Blackhawk and can accelerate extremely quickly to get out of the area after pickup and drop-off of troops is complete.
The high speed and maneuverability drastically increase survivability over that of the current aircraft. The V-280 doesn’t have large rotor systems with giant masts to worry about during aggressive maneuvering, so if you start taking fire from a threat, you can aggressively bank the aircraft on its side like a fighter jet, allowing you to displace from threat quickly while maintaining a positive energy state on the aircraft. If you deplete energy during evasive maneuvering to a point where you slow to helicopter speeds, the flight control computers and crew input will move the pylons up so they can absorb lifting responsibility as airspeed bleeds off and then quickly push the pylons back down, accelerating out of the maneuver with energy to spare,” Lazzara said, adding “you simply can’t maneuver like that in any rotary wing configuration.”
The bottom line is that the V-280 tiltrotor is designed to do everything the Army does with its current medium-lift assault aircraft while providing the requested long range and high-speed capability for the needed transformational capability to dominate on the modern battlefield. Tiltrotors have proven that no other VTOL aircraft configuration can build combat power where the ground force commander needs it, at the same speed and efficiency of a tiltrotor. “Any narrative to the contrary is abjectly false and an attempt to level the playing field where the tiltrotor is clearly dominant in all aspects.” Lazzara affirmed.
Ultimately, the revolutionary tiltrotor design of the V-280 achieves transformational speed, range and agility which greatly enhance the Army’s ability to mass combat power on the objective. The V-280 occupies virtually the exact same footprint on the landing zone as the Army’s Blackhawk and has demonstrated the agility and maneuverability necessary to operate and survive in low-altitude terrain flight at high speeds and long-ranges.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.