9 janvier 2020 | International, Aérospatial

Bell V-280 flies autonomously for first time

By: Jen Judson

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Bell V-280 Valor tiltrotor demonstrator flew autonomously for the first time Dec. 18 at the company's Arlington facility in two sorties.

Over the course of the day, the V-280 met all of Bell's flight goals for the aircraft's first venture into flying autonomously.

The V-280 performed an autonomous takeoff, conversion into cruise mode, precision navigation to various waypoints, loiter maneuvers, conversion into vertical takeoff and landing mode and also landed autonomously, Ryan Ehinger, Bell's program manager for the V-280, told reporters at a company demonstration of the aircraft in Arlington on January 8.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) attended the demonstration.

While safety pilots riding in the cockpit took over between different elements of autonomous flight throughout the sorties, the V-280 completed all pre-programmed elements “without issue,” Paul Wilson, the program's chief engineer, said.

The company has yet to determine future flight tests as part of a continued effort to advance the tiltrotor's autonomous flight capabilities or whether it might specifically conduct a flight where all autonomous elements are stitched together without pilot intervention in between each maneuver.

Bell developed its objective in late 2018 to run autonomous flight demonstrations with the V-280 and, just a year later, was able to execute the flight tests.

The V-280 was built for the Army's Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration and had its maiden flight in December 2017. The autonomous flight took place on the second anniversary of the aircraft's first flight.

The JMR-TD program is meant to inform the Army's Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program. A Sikorsky-Boeing team is also flying a demonstrator — the SB-1 Defiant — as part of the program but got off to a late start, flying for the first time in March 2019, mostly due to delays related to issues building the rotor blades for the coaxial helicopter.

The Army is planning to modernize its fleet through an ambitious effort to acquire two new Future Vertical Lift (FVL) aircraft — FLRAA and a Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) — back-to-back.

The service intends to field FLRAA by FY30 following a full-and-open competition.

The Army wants both FLRAA and FARA to be optionally piloted aircraft, but whether that capability comes in the first tranches when the fleet is fielded remain to be seen.

Bell told reporters at the demonstration that since its first flight two years ago, the V-280 has logged over 160 flight hours among seven test pilots. It has demonstrated it can fly over 300 nautical miles in one trip and proven it can do 2G acceleration turns, can climb to 11,500 feet and has reached speeds of over 280 knots.

The V-280 flew at 200 knots during the January 8 demonstration and performed other agility maneuvers while showing off its hover performance.

While the JMR-TD phase is over, Bell continues to consider what could still be demonstrated with the V-280 before the aircraft is officially put to bed.


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