The future of air warfare? Radical 'Vigilant' tiltrotor drone can transform between helicopter and plane

  • Bell says radical new craft could be in service by 2023 
  • Will 'combine the vertical lift capability of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft' 

Bell has unveiled a radical new tiltrotor drone that could be launched from warships to carry out attacks automatically.

Called the V-247 Vigilant, Bell says it will 'combine the vertical lift capability of a helicopter with the speed and range of a conventional fixed-wing aircraft'.

It boasts the craft could be in service by 2023, and is able to take off from anywhere - even a dangerous ship's deck. 

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Called the V-247 Vigilant,Bell says it will 'combine the vertical lift capability of a helicopter with the speed and range of a conventional fixed-wing aircraft'.

Called the V-247 Vigilant,Bell says it will 'combine the vertical lift capability of a helicopter with the speed and range of a conventional fixed-wing aircraft'.

VIGILANT SPECS 

 Single engine tiltrotor unmanned aerial system 

250 knots cruise speed; 180 knots endurance speed; >300 knots at maximum continuous power

Combat range: 450 nautical miles mission radius

Time on station: 11 hours 

Can hold a combination of fuel, armament, and sensors, up to 13,000 pounds 

Air-to-air refueling 

'The Bell V-247 Vigilant is the next leap in innovation making the future of aviation a reality today – it's a testament to the power and versatility of tiltrotor flight,' said Mitch Snyder, president and CEO at Bell Helicopter. 

'The unmanned tiltrotor is the latest example of how we are changing the way the world flies, taking our customers into the dynamic world of next-generation aircraft.' 

The aviation giant says the UAS is designed to provide 'unmatched long-endurance persistent expeditionary and surveillance capability and lethal reach, as well as runway independence to operate successfully in maritime environments and locations without secure runway availability.'

The bays on the Bell V-247 Vigilant are designed to carry high definition sensors, fuel, sonar buoys, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) modules, 360-degree surface radar modules, an MK-50 torpedo or Hellfire or JAGM missiles optimally.

 With its signature blade fold wing stow design, it will fit inside a DDG hangar space, and two can be loaded on a C-17 aircraft. 

'Leveraging lessons learned from our extensive history and experience with tiltrotors, we have found the best available solution to fulfill the Marine Corps need for a Group 5 UAS,' said Vince Tobin, vice president, advanced tiltrotor systems at Bell Helicopter. 

 'The Bell V-247 Vigilant will give military customers the capabilities needed to reduce the complexity of deployment, increase speed of employment, reduce mission times and increase response time – all critical elements to completing missions to save lives and protect our freedom.'

The aviation giant says the UAS is designed to provide 'unmatched long-endurance persistent expeditionary and surveillance capability and lethal reach, as well as runway independence to operate successfully in maritime environments and locations without secure runway availability.'

The aviation giant says the UAS is designed to provide 'unmatched long-endurance persistent expeditionary and surveillance capability and lethal reach, as well as runway independence to operate successfully in maritime environments and locations without secure runway availability.'

Two teams - Sikorsky-Boeing with their Defiant, and Bell Helicopter-Lockheed Martin with their V280, are also vying for the lucractive contract to create a manned version of the  'supercopter'.

Both are set to take off for the first time next year in the final stage of the battle to replace the Black Hawk.  

The Bell Helicopter design, which is called the V-280 Valor, is an advanced tilt-rotor design that is based upon technology similar to the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey 

The Bell Helicopter design, which is called the V-280 Valor, is an advanced tilt-rotor design that is based upon technology similar to the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey 

The Sikorsky-Boeing entry, called the SB-1 Defiant, is a compound helicopter design with co-axial rotors and a pusher-propeller

COMPETITORS AT A GLANCE 

The Sikorsky-Boeing entry, called the SB-1 Defiant, is a compound helicopter design with co-axial rotors and a pusher-propeller.  

The Bell Helicopter design, which is called the V-280 Valor, is an advanced tilt-rotor design that is based upon technology similar to the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey. 

The new tilt-rotor is smaller, faster and much more manoeuvrable than the Osprey and has a top speed of over 300 knots.

The two prototype aircraft will be built and flown as part of a project called the Joint Multi Role Technology Demonstrator Air Vehicle, which will then inform the Army's Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program to replace the long-serving Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and Boeing AH-64E Apache.

The FVL program will also inform the US Navy's MH-XX program to replace the MH-60 Seahawk.

Bell revealed this week it believes it's entrant could enter service in 2024. 

'There's no real technology that needs to be further developed for us to be able to design and develop an aircraft that meets those requirements,' said Vince Tobin, Bell's vice president of advanced tiltrotor systems, according to DefenceOne

'Our big push now is that, after we fly this and prove out that we can build this aircraft, that we are ready to go into engineering and manufacturing development.'

The Sikorsky-Boeing team is also hoping to fly in 2017, said Doug Shidler, Sikorsky's program director for its Joint Multi-Role tech demonstrator.

'The intent of the JMR TD effort is to maximize the knowledge gain and risk reduction toward an anticipated Future Vertical Lift acquisition program,' said Dan Bailey, the Army's JMR/FVL program director when the two finalists were announced. 

Two other teams led by Karem Aircraft and AVX Aircraft were not selected for continued development, but the service is still interested in their technologies.

'The Army will seek to continue technology development efforts with those teams based on resources and opportunities,' the service said.

The Sikorsky-Boeing entry, called the SB-1 Defiant, is a compound helicopter design with co-axial rotors and a pusher-propeller.  

The Bell Helicopter design, which is called the V-280 Valor, is an advanced tilt-rotor design that is based upon technology similar to the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey. 

The new tilt-rotor is smaller, faster and much more manoeuvrable than the Osprey and has a top speed of over 300 knots.

The Future Vertical Lift (FVL) is a program to develop a family of military helicopters for the United States Armed Forces. 

The Bell Helicopter design, which is called the V-280 Valor, is an advanced tilt-rotor design that is based upon technology similar to the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey.

The Bell V280 program completed its final design and risk review period in August, and construction has already begun.

The Bell V280 program completed its final design and risk review period in August, and construction has already begun.

Four different sizes of aircraft are to be developed, and they will  share common hardware such as sensors, avionics, engines, and weapons. 

It will eventually lead to replacements for the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache, CH-47 Chinook, and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters.

The precursor for FVL is the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) helicopter program, which will provide technology demonstrations planned for 2017. 

Chris Gehler, director of Bell Helicopter's advanced tilt-rotor systems, said the V280 program completed its final design and risk review period in August. Spirit Aerosystems has completed building the fuselage in Wichita, Kansas, and shipped it to Amarillo just before AUSA.

'This is real. The aircraft is coming together now,' Gehler told Defense News

Spirit Aerosystems has completed building the fuselage in Wichita, Kansas, and shipped it to Amarillo ahead of flight tests in 2017

Spirit Aerosystems has completed building the fuselage in Wichita, Kansas, and shipped it to Amarillo ahead of flight tests in 2017

THE DEFIANT-1 

The Sikorsky-Boeing entry, called the SB-1 Defiant, is a compound helicopter design with co-axial rotors and a pusher-propeller.

The design will have a cruise speed of 250 kn (290 mph; 460 km/h), but less range due to using the 'old' T55 engine. 

The SB-1 will be quick and nimble, with fast acceleration and deceleration, side-to-side movement, and hovering with the tail up and nose down.

The Defiant demonstrator will be powered by the Honeywell T55, which powers the CH-47 Chinook.

It will be slightly modified to better operate at slower speeds down to 85% rpm.

'We've got all kinds of pieces and parts, different technologies and things that are yielding today and starting to flow to Amarillo.'

'About this time next year,' he said, the aircraft will look ready to fly and the team will be running pre-flight checks, ground runs, shake tests and other reliability activities.

The U.S. Army-led Joint Multi-Role Demonstrator (JMR-TD) program is the science and technology precursor to the Department of Defense's Future Vertical Lift program expected to replace 2,000 to 4,000 medium-class utility and attack helicopters. 

The U.S. Army and Department of Defense are seeking leap-ahead capabilities and have identified a speed of 230+ knots as a key discriminating capability. 

The U.S. Army's current helicopter fleet cruises at 140 knots. 

BELL HELICOPTER/LOCKHEED MARTIN'S V280 

The Bell Helicopter design, which is called the V-280 Valor, is an advanced tilt-rotor design that is based upon technology similar to the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey. 

The new tilt-rotor is smaller, faster and much more manoeuvrable than the Osprey and has a top speed of over 300 knots.

The first flight of the next generation tiltrotor is scheduled for the second half of 2017. 

The V-280 tiltrotor will provide unmatched speed, range and payload, along with unmatched agility at the objective, Boeing says.  

The first flight of the next generation tiltrotor is scheduled for the second half of 2017.

The first flight of the next generation tiltrotor is scheduled for the second half of 2017.

 

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