In the aviation world, few events are as anticipated, exciting and momentous as the first flight of a new prototype. Bell Helicopter’s V-280 Valor development team experienced that emotional rush on December 18, 2017 when the product of many years’ hard work lifted off the tarmac in Amarillo, Texas for the first time.
Check out this first flight video, courtesy of Bell Helicopter:
The V-280 Valor is Bell’s entry in the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift–Medium (FVL-M) competition to replace the storied UH-60M Blackhawk, and possibly also the AH-64A Apache medium helicopters. The Valor can cruise at 280 knots, nearly double that of the Blackhawk. Additionally, its combat range of 500-800nm is far superior to the UH-60M, and it carries 14 troops, which is 2 more than the Blackhawk.
Bell is competing with the entry from the Boeing-Sikorsky team, the SB-1 Defiant. Also unconventional, the Defiant features a coaxial contra-rotating main rotor paired with a pusher propeller to improve cruising speed and range. The Defiant is expected to begin flight testing later this year.
It will be interesting to watch this procurement battle play out. Whichever team ultimately wins the contract, the U.S. Army will be getting a stellar replacement for the venerable Blackhawk. Furthermore, the boundaries of vertical flight technology will be stretched ever-outward.
On December 19, 2017, Boeing unveiled its prototype in the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker drone competition. Boeing’s prototype will compete with entries from Lockheed-Martin and General Atomics. This aircraft will be carrier-based and is expected to have a 15,000lb payload of off-loadable fuel (around 2,300 gallons).
It’s appears to have stealth characteristics designed in, which will make it a nice compliment to the F-35B/C Lightning fighters it will be refueling. It doesn’t make much sense to send stealth fighters off to battle accompanied by refueling tankers that betray the squadron’s position with barndoor-sized RCS signatures!
On the flip side, however, 2,300 gallons isn’t a whole lot of gas for a thirsty squadron of fighter jets! It’ll be interesting to watch this procurement dance play out.
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