Bell’s V-280 tiltrotor didn’t take flight – not yet – but it has tilted its rotors into helicopter mode and spun them up during its first-ever “restrained ground run test.” This test mode plugs the whole aircraft into a bulky apparatus to ensure it doesn’t take off by accident. (That would be bad).
The test is the latest PR success for Bell, which has showed off off the V-280 at every stage of its development but has reached a new pitch of showmanship and self-confidence ahead of the huge Association of the US Army conference next week. (Bell is part of Textron). While Bell hopes to sell the V-280 to all services, the Army is both the largest potential market and the only service to buy none of Bell’s current tiltrotor, the V-22 Osprey. The V-280 Valor is a smaller, faster, more advanced model designed for the Future Vertical Lift program.
Bell’s rival on FVL is a team of Sikorsky (now part of Lockheed Martin) and Boeing. They’ve joined forces to develop the SB>1 Defiant, a radically different design that combines a conventional-looking coaxial rotor with a pusher propeller. Their compound helicopter technology hasn’t been used in real-world combat aircraft like tiltrotors, so they have more to prove.
So far, we haven’t seen anything from the SB>1 team but CGI. They have shown photos of the smaller S-97 Raider demonstrator, a Sikorsky-only project, but that aircraft suffered a hard landing in August and won’t fly again until next year. When Sikorsky and Boeing do decide to show their machine, we’ll show you.