Bell Helicopter Back in the Civil Tiltrotor Game?

 - April 11, 2013, 3:40 PM
Bell Helicopter has reentered the civil tiltrotor arena with the unveiling of the V-280 yesterday. The aircraft is being entered into the U.S. Army's Joint Multirole Helicopter competition, but Bell said it plans to develop a civil version of the new tiltrotor. First flight of a V-280 prototype is expected by 2017. (Photo: Bell Helicopter)

When Bell Helicopter sold its remaining stake in the BA609 civil tiltrotor program to partner AgustaWestland about two years ago, industry analysts figured that Bell was exiting this niche market. But that might not be the case, since Bell unveiled a next-generation tiltrotor–the Bell V-280 Valor–yesterday at the Army Aviation Association of America (Quad A) convention in Fort Worth, Texas.

Though the V-280 is Bell’s entrant in the U.S. Army’s competition for a joint multi-role helicopter, the manufacturer is considering a civil variant. “We are looking at the commercial aspects,” Bell business development manager for future vertical-lift programs Chris Gehler told AIN. “Everybody can benefit from this kind of speed and range. The applicability to long-range offshore and search-and-rescue work is huge.”

The tiltrotor is designed to carry 11 passengers and fly up to 800 nm at a maximum speed of 280 knots. The all-composite V-280 also shares much of the systems architecture, such as fly-by-wire and some styling, of the in-development Bell 525 super-medium twin helicopter.

Notably, the engines on the V-280 will not tilt–rather, the gearbox enables the prop-rotor to rotate. “We developed a new transmission piece and a 90-degree gearbox that enables those engines to remain in a fixed position,” Gehler said.

Bell expects to build and fly a V-280 prototype by 2017.