The Buzz

Revealed: Why Bell Helicopter's New V-280 Could Be a Game Changer on the Battlefield

A new Army-led effort to engineer a next-generation tiltrotor aircraft for the 2030s includes the integration of a high-tech 360-degree sensor suite quite similar to the one used on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter called a Distributed Aperture Systems, or DAS, developers explained. 

“Instead of having sensors mounted to the turret, you have sensors that are mounted to the aircraft – so essentially you have sensors staring in 360-degrees around the aircraft at any given time. Those images are stitched together so it appears as one continuous image to the pilot. Both pilots can make use of the same system,” Vince Tobin, Vice President of Advanced Tiltrotor Systems, Bell Helicopter, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

This technology will also allow troops riding in the back of the aircraft to wear goggles or a helmet giving them a view of the surrounding sensor feeds as they transit to a mission, Tobin added.

The DAS system will also form the basis a small-arms enemy fire detection technology which will search for and locate the signature of incoming enemy attacks. The sensors will be able to discern the location and heat signature coming from enemy small arms fire, giving the aircraft and opportunity to quickly attack with its weapons – lowering risk of injury to the pilots, crew and passengers.

Army Future Vertical Lift - 2030s:

The new Bell tiltrotor, called the V-280 Valor, is part of the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program aimed at establishing requirements and paving the way toward a new Future Vertical Lift aircraft designed to meet a wide range of new requirements.

(This first appeared in Scout Warrior here.)

The concept behind the Army’s joint Future Vertical Lift program is to engineer a forward-looking, future aircraft able to reach airplane speeds and yet retain and ability to hover and maneuver like a helicopter.

“The aircraft will have an ability to come to a hover in challenging conditions and then, while at a hover, operate at low speeds with maneuvering capability to roll and yaw. We want it to have the handling perspective to make the aircraft able to do what it is able to do,” Tobin added.

The V-280 Valor will also have yet-to-be-determined Degraded Visual Environment technology that allows sensors to see through obscurants such as brown-out conditions, bad weather and other impediments to navigation. Part of this will also include a system called Controlled Flight into Terrain wherein an aircraft has an ability to quickly re-route itself it is approaching a dangerous obstacle such as a mountain, rock wall or building structure.

The new attack variant is expected to use a modernized or next-generation of existing Apache sensors and targeting systems called the Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor, or MTADS/PVS.

When it comes to sensors and mission equipment, Bell engineers are building a tiltrotor aircraft with what is called “open architecture,” meaning software and hardware able to quickly integrate new technologies as they emerge. The concept is to construct a helicopter that is not intended to operate today but rather advance technology well into the 2030s and beyond. Therefore, it will need to anticipate the weapons, sensors, computer processors and avionics likely to emerge by the 2030s.

This will likely draw upon a semi-autonomous navigation technology built into the aircraft known as “fly-by-wire.”  Bell Helicopter developed the initial algorithms for this technology, which is also now on the V-22 Osprey.

Another survivability technology potentially slated for the aircraft is a system known as Common Infrared Countermeasure, or CIRCM; CIRCM is a lighter weight variant of an existing technology which uses a laser-jammer to throw incoming enemy missiles off course – therefore protecting the aircraft.

"We are looking to the DoD customer to see what they want. Either way we can get that on the airplane,” Tobin explained.

Bell helicopter has now attached the wing to the fuselage of a new, next-generation tiltrotor aircraft engineered to reach speeds of 280 knots, fly for 800 kilometers on one tank of fuel, hover and maneuver in “high-hot” conditions and function as both a utility and attack helicopter platform.

The intention is to build an advanced, high-tech tiltrotor demonstrator aircraft to take flight in November of 2017 as part of an effort to ultimate build a future aircraft able to begin operations in the 2030s.

“There is one long wing. We attach the middle of the wing to the fuselage - the entire wing is one piece bolted to the fuselage of the airplane. One wing covers both sides. The wing is attached with aircraft grade structural fasteners. There are enough aircraft fasteners to provide sufficient strength to hold the aircraft together,” Vince Tobin, Vice President of Advanced Tiltrotor Systems, Bell Helicopter, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

In addition, the future aircraft is intended to be able to use fuel-efficient engine technology to allow an aircraft to travel at least 800 kilometers on a single tank of fuel. Such an ability will enable the aircraft to operate more easily one a single mission without needing Forward Arming and Refueling Points, or FARPs.

The idea is to engineer and aircraft able to fly from the west coast to Hawaii without needing to refuel.

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