AUSA: I’m not a pilot, but today I played a copilot in a flight simulator Bell Helicopter brought to the Association of the United States Army annual convention to show what its next tiltrotor, the V-280 Valor, will be able to do. As my pilot in the simulator, former Army aviator and test pilot Steve Kihara, demonstrated, the V-280 promises to be, as Bell Vice President Vince Tobin declared in a media briefing earlier, “a very hot aircraft – hotter than anything that’s flying today.”
The first V-280, a “technology demonstrator” for the Army-led Joint Multi-Role program, which aims to develop far faster and more agile rotorcraft, is being built in Amarillo, Texas. Bell also assembles the much larger V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, built in a 50-50 partnership with Boeing Co., in Amarillo. The V-280 is about 60 percent the V-22’s size, is about 68 percent complete and is scheduled to fly for the first time next September. But as you can see in a video of my simulator ride (above), if the real V-280 flies like the simulator – and given computer fidelity these days there’s every reason to expect it will – Tobin won’t have to eat his words.
When Kihara turned the simulator on, we were hovering at about 75 feet above a moving image of an airfield. With a gentle nudge on the controls and a push on his rudder pedals, Kihara whirled our simulated V-280 around in a 360 degree circle that made my head spin. Then, still flying with the 35-foot-diameter “proprotors” pointed up in helicopter mode, Kihara changed the rotor blade pitch and we side-slipped sideways to the right a few yards then banked back left, and came back into a steady hover.
The next few minutes were enough to make one “passenger” observing from behind the simulator cockpit start to feel airsick. When Kihara tilted the rotors forward, we quickly gained speed and altitude, within seconds hitting speeds far faster than a helicopter can fly – better than 200 knots. He slowed us down just as quickly, tilting the rotors back up while pirouetting down into a computer representation of a courtyard nestled among tall buildings. We landed as quickly and gently as any helicopter might.
Tobin had promised as much earlier in his briefing, delivered with a full-size mockup of the V-280 behind him equipped with seats and machine guns pointing out its helicopter-style side doors to show how the Valor could carry a dozen troops. Later in the AUSA show, Bell plans to outfit the mockup for medevac missions and then as a gunship bristling with missiles, guns and rockets.
“From an agility perspective at a hover, the aircraft will react to flight control inputs as aggressively as any aircraft flying,” Tobin said. “In fact, probably more aggressive than the vast majority of pilots would ever want to use. The reason for that level of aggressiveness s to make sure that in non-benign conditions, where there’s wind and those kind of things, that we still have the control authority to get the aircraft to do what it needs to do. The main point is, it’s a very agile aircraft.”
Fun to “fly” in, too.