“This will carry a squad of Army soldiers, or a squad of Marines, to an assault area faster and increase the lethality compared to the V-22 [Osprey], which is a larger platform and more of a utility aircraft,” said Jeff Schloesser, a retired Army major general and executive vice president of strategic pursuits for Bell’s Washington operations.
Schloesser spoke to Army Times Thursday during the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual special operations/low-intensity conflict symposium and exhibition in Arlington, Virginia.
Beyond the increased functionality, it should be more comfortable, too. Troops who have used the Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System, or FRIES, on a V-22 can probably recall the intense rotor wash and engine heat pounding them while trying to grip the rope on insertion.
Because the V-280’s wing doesn’t tilt like a V-22, a necessity for shipboard operations, fast-ropers leaving the aircraft’s side-door avoid “the hot air from the engine going out backwards,” Schloesser said.
“Essentially, what you got is two six-foot doors, you just slide your fast rope bar out, and out you go, and this [wing placement] protects you from that downwash,” he added.
The V-280 Valor is a tilt-rotor aircraft built for an Army-led demonstration.
The Army had been planning — through its Joint Multi-Role demonstrator program — for two very different vertical lift prototypes to begin flight demonstrations last fall as part of a critical path to informing and shaping the design of a Future Vertical Lift helicopter fleet expected to hit the skies in the 2030s.
The V-280 had its maiden flight Dec. 18. The other prototype, the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant coaxial helicopter, is expected to take its first flight some time this year after falling behind on the original goal of September.
Bell’s Valor will come in both an armed and an assault version.
The V-280 isn’t designed for ship launches, but in a pinch, takeoff from the deck of a carrier would be possible.
“It’s shipboard compatible, but it’s not meant to be living on a ship for extended periods of time,” Schloesser said.
In West Palm Beach, Florida, and Amarillo, Texas, two different aircraft are coming together in a sprint to the starting line of the Army’s much-anticipated flight demonstrations of future helicopter concepts in 2017.
“This gets a squad into a combat zone faster, and from a much longer range,” he added. “You could actually use this in the Pacific, and be able to operate off islands.”
Roughly 12 to 14 assault troops would be able to fit in the V-280 during those hypothetical island-hopping scenarios.
“This is an advanced tilt-rotor, so it’s a generation beyond our V-22, that’s currently flying with both AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] and the Marines,” Schloesser said.
Compared to legacy helicopters, like the UH-60 Black Hawk, the new V-280 will fly at twice the speed and twice the range, Schloesser confirmed.
At “500 to 800 nautical miles ... it increases your survivability,” he said. “You don’t have to stop for FARPs [forward air refuelling points], and the speed in which you go over a hostile zone is twice as fast.”
“In other words, the time an enemy has to engage you is cut in half,” he added.
That speed and range isn’t just good for the air assault mission. Bell advertises that its V-280 will have a medical evacuation coverage area five times greater than current helicopters.
In an era where the ‘golden hour,’ the Defense Department policy that whisks wounded troops off the battlefield to lifesaving care within the first hour of injury, is being stretched thin, that increased coverage could save lives.