This is the story of two legendary military aircraft. Each has its place in history for very distinct reasons, but could become forever intertwined.
The V-22 Osprey was the first tilt rotor aircraft – meaning it was able to rotate its propellers to handle vertical takeoff and landing like a helicopter, but provide the speed and transport capabilities of a plane.
The complexity of operating the Osprey led to a design and development process that lasted nearly 25 years. And an initial budget of $2.5 billion eventually ballooned to over $30 billion, along with a litany of crashes and 30 fatalities.
The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter on the other hand, has been a reliable workhorse for the Army. It’s transported troops to and from war zones on multiple continents in well-publicized and secret operations for nearly 40 years. It’s speed and maneuverability are the things of legend – a former platoon sergeant of mine even claims to have seen one fly upside down.
The Osprey represents a joint venture between Boeing and Bell Helicopter. Bell, however, is ready move past both the Osprey and Sikorsky’s Black Hawk with the V-280 Valor.
Learning from their experience on the Osprey, Bell is using the twin tilt rotor design but making it easier to build, operate and maintain. They feel this will speed development and deployment while keeping costs down.
The Valor will also look to double the speed and range of the Black Hawk while offering advanced pilot visuals and controls.
Another key difference is that only the propellers swing forward or upwards when landing or taking off, meaning the engines don’t move. This adds greater balance and maneuverability while removing the need for more moving parts. This design change also means less damage to the landing or take-off pad and allows for a side-loading door.
Bell hopes to take the Valor on its first test flight later this year. Then, the biggest challenge will be convincing the Army to buy it. The Valor was built for the Pentagon’s joint multirole technology demonstrator program, with not future commitments.
To combat the Valor, Boeing and Sikorsky have teamed up on their own high-speed helicopter, dubbed the SB-1 Defiant.