On December 5, the Army announced that Bell’s V-280 Valor won the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) competition aimed at fielding a modern replacement for the legendary UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. The contract award, potentially worth as much as $1.2 billion, will fund ongoing development of the platform heading toward a production contract worth tens of billions of dollars.
The V-280 Valor is designed to serve as a medium-lift infantry utility platform that will offer a huge leap in capability over the Black Hawk in several important areas. With a top speed of 305 knots (approximately 350 miles per hour), the Valor can best the Black Hawk in a race by more than 100 miles per hour while offering a combat range of around 900 miles, almost three times that of the UH-60. And believe it or not, it promises to do all that while carrying as much as 25% more weight on board.
The Army is the world’s largest operator of H-60 helicopters, with more than 2,100 platforms in active service, making its FLRAA procurement decision a monumental one regardless of winner. However, since the V-280’s victory was announced, we’ve been inundated with commenters asking questions about whether the V-280’s tilt-rotor design could prove to be more trouble than it’s worth. At the top of this list are concerns about the safety record of the Valor’s tilt-rotor predecessor, the V-22 Osprey, and observations about the Valor’s wider footprint than the Black Hawk it will replace.
Many of the specific requirements the Army laid out for the FLRAA program, as well as the reasons behind the Army’s decision, remain classified, making it quite a bit tougher to address the questions posed by our audience. However, we have been able to put together some reasonable answers to these looming questions based on official statements and a great deal of research.
Related: The Bell V-280 Valor will replace the Army’s legendary Black Hawk
How is the V-280 Valor different from Bell’s V-22 Osprey?
Bell’s V-280 Valor’s tilt-rotor design is a significant departure from the Black Hawk’s conventional helicopter layout and is more in keeping with Bell’s own V-22 Osprey. But while these two platforms leverage the same basic approach to aviation, there are a number of important differences.
A tilt-rotor aircraft is, at its most simplistic level, a combination of helicopter and airplane design elements meant to give operators the basic utility of a rotorcraft alongside the greater speeds and ranges allowed by fixed-wing aircraft. This is accomplished via powered rotors mounted on rotating nacelles at either end of a fixed wing, with the props pointing up for vertical take-off and landing operations, and forward during sustained flight.
The most apparent difference between the V-280 Valor and V-22 Osprey is in size. The V-280 was designed from the start to support infantry operations, whereas the V-22 is considered a medium/heavy assault support and utility aircraft. In practical terms, that means the V-22 is quite a bit bigger — it’s capable of carrying as many as 24 troops, while the V-280 is limited to just 12.
That difference in purpose also manifests in the doors used in each aircraft. The V-22 leverages a large rear cargo ramp, while the V-280 has sliding six-foot doors on either side, more in keeping with the existing Black Hawk.
Perhaps the most important difference between these platforms in terms of operation, however, isn’t quite as conspicuous. Unlike the V-22, the V-280’s engines don’t actually rotate at the ends of its wings. Instead, the engines remain in place while the rotors and drive shafts tilt.
“Our fixed engine configuration allows maintainers the ability to remove an engine, drive shaft or gearbox independent of each other, reducing time required for maintenance procedures, and increasing aircraft availability to the operator,” Keith Flail, Bell’s Vice President of Advanced Tiltrotor Systems, told Tyler Rogoway in an interview for The Warzone.
Related: Questions about Ospreys’ safety remain as SpecOps aircraft return home following incident in Norway
The V-22 Osprey and tilt-rotor aircraft’s reputation for being unsafe
The most prominent concern flooding the comments sections beneath stories and videos about the Army’s V-280 decision really boils down to the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey’s reputation as an unsafe platform. The V-22 program has certainly seen several high-profile incidents, leading to the deaths of service members, dating all the way back to the early 1990s.
The first fatalities associated with the Osprey were in July of 1992 when seven Marines were killed. Eight years later, another Osprey full of Marines went down, killing 19. In all, 51 service members have died in Osprey crashes throughout the program’s lifetime, with the most recent coming in June of this year when an Osprey belonging to the Marine’s 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing crashed in California, killing five.
Every service member lost in training or combat is a tragedy, but in order to determine whether the V-280 is truly an unsafe replacement for the UH-60, it’s important to view these tragic incidents through an admittedly difficult-to-muster lens of objectivity.
Fatalities are an unfortunate fact of life in military aviation regardless of platform, and while there’s a valid argument to be made that many of these deaths could have been avoided through better training or maintenance practices, the Osprey certainly isn’t alone in its stomach-churning body count.
Between 2013 and December 2020, 224 service members died in over 6,000 separate DoD aviation accidents that destroyed 186 aircraft and caused around $10 billion worth of damage.
And despite the Osprey’s negative reputation, you won’t find its incident record as a dangerous outlier in service-wide or branch-specific data. As Marine Maj. Jorge Hernandez, spokesman for Marine aviation, explained to the Military Times in a July e-mail, the Marine Corps’ MV-22 Osprey has a lower mishap rate per 100,000 flight hours than the Harrier, Super Hornet, F-35B, or CH-53E Super Stallion.
“The 10-year average mishap rate for MV-22′s is 3.16 per 100,000 flight hours,” Hernandez wrote on July 8.
In the first 33 years the H-60 Black Hawk flew, more than 180 American service members and civilians died in non-combat-related crashes, according to the list tallied by ArmyAirCrews.com. Now, it’s important to keep in mind that the Black Hawk existed in higher volume than the Osprey during this time, and data about the UH-60’s mishap rate per 100,000 flight hours that early in its lifespan is extremely sparse. One thing is certain, however: The Black Hawk, like most programs, had its own series of early setbacks.
In April of 1985, six years after entering service, the Army’s fleet of some 630 UH-60s was grounded pending investigations into 37 deaths across 23 incidents. Three years later, that fleet had grown to 970, but an additional eight incidents brought the death toll up to 65. To be clear, it seems likely that the Black Hawk may have still had a better mishap rate than the Osprey during this time — as the Army pointed out in March of 1988, it remained the “safest helicopter the Army had ever flown” despite these fatalities. Helicopter technology at this point was, to be fair, quite a bit more mature than tilt-rotor platforms were when the Osprey entered service.
This isn’t to suggest that the Osprey is safer than the Black Hawk, but rather just that these sorts of tragedies are, to some extent, inherent to the danger of military aviation.
There are, however, a few factors that play into the Osprey’s perception as unsafe. The first may be recency bias, as the V-22 only entered service in 2007, compared to the decade-spanning careers of its peers. Aircraft, like people, often only get one chance at a first impression, and the Osprey’s early crashes certainly left their mark.
The second tragic variable to consider is the Osprey’s utilitarian role as the Marine Corps’ workhorse troop transport. When a fighter jet crashes, you might see one or two fatalities, but when an aircraft carrying two dozen Marines goes down, the death toll can be much higher. As a result, the Marine Corps’ Hornets and Super Hornets may go down at more than twice the rate of the Osprey, but produce fewer fatalities.
In short, the tilt-rotor Osprey has seen some tragic incidents in its service life, but it’s certainly not the systemically unsafe platform many seem to believe.
Related: Part-time commando makes history by breaking 3,000 flight hours in the Osprey
Will the V-280 Valor’s wider footprint negatively affect combat ops?
The V-280 Valor is undoubtedly larger than the Black Hawk it will replace, with a wingspan of nearly 82 feet compared to the H-60’s slim waistline of just 6’9”. The Valor is quite a bit shorter, however, measuring in at 50.5 feet compared to the Black Hawk’s nearly 65 feet.
When you compare them in that way, the Valor seems much larger than the Black Hawk, but if you turn the Valor 90 degrees, the size disparity becomes less pronounced.
The Valor’s wide footprint will potentially limit its ability to land in tight spaces, something many have voiced concerns about, but Bell believes that the benefits of the tilt-rotor design outweigh any potential limitations.
“The V-280 has a slightly larger footprint than the UH-60. However, you get speeds and ranges to fight against near-peer threats with unprecedented operational productivity. You can’t win the fight unless you’re in the fight,” Flail said.
As an example of footprint, Flail points out that you may only be able to fit 10 V-280 Valors in a soccer field, whereas you might have been able to squeeze 12 Black Hawks instead…
“But you could execute missions with twice the speed and twice the range.”
That speed and range could certainly come into play if the United States finds itself in a Pacific conflict — something Bell was acutely aware of when preparing this graphic that compares the V-280 Valor’s range to that of the UH-60.
And while the Valor may need to choose its landing spots more carefully, that added speed and range promise to save lives in medevac operations. Speed is so valuable because of what’s known within the medical community as the “golden hour.” If you can get a wounded Soldier to advanced medical care within the first hour after they get hurt, their likelihood of survival increases dramatically. The Valor’s ability to travel at double the Black Hawk’s speed and at twice its range can pay real dividends in terms of troop survival, Bell contends.
Related: A brief history of helicopter warfare and the future of air assault operations
Is the V-280 Valor the right choice for the US Army?
To be clear, it’s impossible at this early stage of the V-280 Valor’s life to say that it’s perfectly suited for the Army’s needs. In fact, at this point, we can’t even say for sure what the Army thinks its specific needs are. When asked for more specifics about what prompted the Army to choose the Valor over Sikorski and Boeing’s Defiant X, Maj. Gen. Robert Barrie, the Army’s program executive officer for aviation, offered what basically amounts to a verbose wink and a shrug.
“Can we be more specific on the factors of how exactly we arrived at this point? No,” Barrie said. “However, best value is meant in the truest sense that it was a comprehensive analysis of a variety of factors. No one really drove that decision. So, if you look broadly at a very high level, the factors are variables and performance, cost, and schedule, all were considered, and the combination of those are defined explicitly and evaluated… That is what I would describe as the best value [and] what the Army would describe as its best value selection.”
What we can say for sure is that the V-280 Valor benefits from hundreds of thousands of flight hours worth of experience derived from the V-22 Osprey, and the prototype that’s been used for testing has already exceeded expectations. After all, the “280” in its name was meant to represent 280 knots, only for the prototype to cruise all the way up to 305 knots in testing.
That first prototype racked up about 200 hours in the sky between 2017 and when Bell retired it in 2021. Although Boeing’s entry to the Army’s competition—the Defiant X prototype—is still flying, it has yet to match the Valor’s time in the sky, due in large part to delays related to its rotor blade and transmission system.
The contract awarded to Bell is good for $232 million with options that range up to $1.2 billion, but even then, the result won’t be a fleet of new transport platforms; it will be a more thoroughly designed and tested platform that’s ready to move into production. In other words, this program is still very much in its infancy.
Will the V-280 eventually prove its doubters wrong and go on to earn a place atop the legendary Army aircraft podium alongside the likes of the UH-1 Iroquois and UH-60 Black Hawk? The truth is, no one can say just yet. But the Pentagon believes the Valor has what it takes to be the future of Army aviation. The V-280’s combination of speed, range, and utility could offer a massive leap in capability for America’s infantry troops in the 21st century.
But is the Army right? Only time will tell.
Read more from Sandboxx News
- A brief history of helicopter warfare and the future of air assault operations
- A brief history (and the future) of high-speed vertical lift aircraft
- 10 great airplanes before the F-35 that overcame rough starts
- The Bell V-280 Valor will replace the Army’s legendary Black Hawk
- S-67 Blackhawk: The high-speed attack chopper that could have been
James Crawford says
Interesting that some of the posters are accused of being paid shills for Bell corporation. Judging by how knowledgable they are, I would guess that they are actually engineers who are working on the Valor program. That certainly does not invalidate their comments.
I have been skeptical about the selection of the Valor, but this article eloquently articulates the reasoning. I have to admit that the Defiant seems sexier because it is reminiscent of AIRWOLF. However; the Valor has clearly outperformed based on the testing. It would be interesting to know if the Valor could benefit from using the new engine that Sikorsky has been waiting for.
Of course Sikorsky Raider X might be the best choice for the FARA program. Given the probability of conflict in the Indo-Pacific theater, deploying Raider X helicopters from all of those Freedom and Independence class littoral combat ships might be an extremely effective utilization for those less than spectacularly effective ships.
George Kiel says
The idea that the Valor design is advantageous to the defiant should be ludicrous even to a junior engineer. This helicopter-plane halfbreed promises to do both functions but it will be mediocre at both. What seems to have happened here is that Sikorsky/Boeing could not make the Defiant work. That is not an inherent flaw of the concept – the soviets build one back in the 70s and the Russians have one in operation now – it is just this team could not deliver it. With the Valor
we should expect a lot more accidents and deaths.
David Lau says
I don’t know too many information, the only decision is good or bad, for long I saw, the V-22 engine block self aerodynamic path, the difference is the half tilting engine of V-280 wins, because the deadly handicap of V-22 is the airflow reduce too much lifting when the rotor tilts, and this is almost the cause and cost of all accident before, make the V-280 rotor tilting part in half is a very good idea, and give more float , of course to compensate is less crews on board, is it ???
One thing that’s being left out of the article and comments concerns the recently concluded Technology Demonstration phase: The V-280 Valor far outperformed Sikorsky’s SB>1 Defiant.
Valor got into the air by the time the Army wanted. Defaint was 15 months late, then had to suspend flight testing for more work., . Valor flew three times as many hours as Defiant. Valor exceeded its promised speed, Defiant never reached its. Valor started flying Army pilots two months after first flight. Defiant didn’t do that until 2 1/years after its. Valor met or exceeded every goal promised for the demonstration and did it when they said it would. Defiant kept missing dates to demonstrate promised characteristics and wouldn’t explain why. Through models and illustrations it was shown how a naval Valor could fold up (not a requirement for the Army version) to fit inside the same hangars H-60s use on destroyers. Defiant never addressed this. Etc.
Point is, probably a big reason for the Army’s decision was that Valor’s results inspired far more confidence that it would get to a production version that met the Army’s needs.
John Ferraro says
Outstanding comment and right on point. The Bell team performed an outstanding demonstration program, meeting or exceeding all U.S. Army requirements. They did it either as scheduled or ahead of schedule.
Those of us who had to live through the absolute misery of the Sikorsky/Boeing RAH-66 Comanche program, well know the track record of under-performance, monthly major technical issues, unending schedule slips and cost overruns this not so illustrious team brings to a competition. The Defiant demonstration showed all the same characteristics. I’m sure there are enough folks in the Army who saw the similarity as well. The Defiant is a well chosen name; the design is Defiant of sound VTOL aircraft engineering practices proven through the ages.
Can the bell sling load long distances? Can a tilt rotor fight fires with a Bambi bucket? Can you medivac a tilt rotor with a hoist? I don’t think it will do those take very well. It just flys long distances fast what about the rest of the tasks. That is the reason the Marine corps did not replace all their helicopters with Ospreys.
Jack Slater says
The ability to sling load is one of Army’s requirements for this aircraft and the V-280 meets this requirements. In fact, I believe it can lift more than the Black Hawk. Carrying a Bambi bucket is not an Army mission, but if Army wanted to help out fighting fires, Valor could do it just like Black Hawk. In additin to speed and range, Valor is more maneuverable at high speed and meets or exceeds all Army maneuvering requirements for slow speed and hover. It can HOGE in high and hot conditions much better than Black Hawk. It accelerates and decelerates faster. The production version should meet or exceed all of the Army’s requirements for the Black Hawk replacement.
What you said about why Marines didn’t replace all their helicopters with Ospreys is not true. Osprey was intended to replace only the CH-46, which it has done. . For missions that don’t require that much lift, Marines use the UH-1Y, which they’re just starting to consider replacing (maybe with Valor?). For heavy lift, they are replacing CH-53E with CH-53K. And of course for attack, they have the AH-1Z, whose production run has just finished. Simply put, the Osprey did not replace those helicopters it wasn’t supposed to replace.
I think this thing will cost twice as much to maintain and Ian really not sure how the carbon fiber fuselage will hold up overtime or weather conditions I personally belive it will turn into a fair weather aircraft. I rember my first airlift with the uh60,’said ours took off with out a problem my platoon sergants flew into a tree at ft Lewis WA. from then on we called them crash hawks every one survived but they were still figuring them out and the fleet was grounded several times because if they flew to close to a radio tower they would crash so yes every aircraft has had problems If I was still in service I would be mad they didn’t put a skid on it they are so much easier to repell from and fast rope from but maybe the bigger door will help
Army didn’t want skids because among other things they’re harder to move around on the ground. Same reason UH-60 doesn’t have skids. Plus, to get speed/range Army wants, need minimum drag and that means retractable landing gear. retractable skids have been tried, but proved more trouble than they’re worth.
Steve Wasilausky says
I hope you can look a bit further into the selection of the V-280, and compare it to some of the missions and flight requirements of Blackhawk helicopters. Further, if specific data is not known, compare the flight requirements to current V-22 capabilities. Things I’m thinking about are the ability to hover, sling load capabilities, operate in dusty conditions, operate in high/hot conditions, and the likelihood of the vortex ring state as experienced by the V-22.
Jack Slater says
Army says production V-280 will meet or exceed all requirements for Black Hawk replacement. Comparing to V-22 isn’t valid. they’re completely different aircraft for different missions. That’s like extrapolating performance of a fighter using data from a different kind of fighter using 40 years older technology just because they’re both jets.
Regarding Vortex Ring State, ALL rotorcraft are subject to VRS. Osprey’s initial problems were because initially they didn’t fully test it under those conditions. After the tragic loss, the proper testing was done and with some modifications it was found that it was somewhat less vulnerable to VRS than a regular helicopter and could recover from it much easier (blip the nacelles a bit forward and you fly out of the condition).
V-280, BTW, will operate hot/high much better than V-22 or Black Hawk because it’s part of the requirement (which it wasn’t for those two). Hot/high is why it carries so much power
Caleb A Godwin says
Something not noted by the article – as far as I know, the V-280 has low enough disc loading (ie., it’s got enough rotor area relative to its weight) to auto-rotate in VTOL flight – something the V-22 just can’t do.
When combined with the fact that, IIRC, the V-280 also has the same sort of emergency use transmission and driveshaft system which lets one engine drive both rotors in an emergency, you’ve got a lot of redundancy in vertical flight (as well as the ability to glide in for a landing in horizontal flight, even if the rotors will probably snap on touchdown).
Dale Holley says
This article covers, a lot about speed, capacity,
And overall things. But what it’s not talking about is survivability, loss of engine, and
Protection of troops on board, and functional
Ability with loss of systems, hydraulics, which
Will factor in and on board computer failure.
Thus autorotation? or just crash survival.
These are impressive statistics but what’s important to the crewmen/ soldiers on board
Is mission/survival in the end. Sounds like
“Where’s the money” over likely availability
Justin R Granger says
It’s been proven that aircraft kept in hangers require less maintenance. Billions have been spent on new hangers for UH-60’s. Can this aircraft be pushed sideways into existing Blackhawk hangers? Or must taxpayers replace new hangers? During the acceptance process for the Osprey. The ability to autorotate was dropped as a requirement, because the Osprey was unable to. Will this important safety requirement also be written out for the V-280? Bell seems to have quickly sold the rights to the Osprey to Agusta. Would they have done this to a cash cow?
John Ferraro says
You bring up two points which have been debated quite a bit over the past several years; hangar space and auto-rotation. First of all, Bell did not sell the rights to the Osprey to Augusta; they sold the rights to the commercial version only of the joint Bell/Augusta 609 tilt-rotor to Augusta, now part of Leonardo.
Hangar space can be handled by putting the V-280 into the hangar at an angle, and while you may not be able to fit as many V-280’s as UH-60’s into the same hangar, building additional hangars is not out of the capability of the U.S. Military. Additionally, the U.S. Army, as well as all U.S. Military services, does not hangar all their aircraft; the vast majority live outside of the hangars as they were designed to do.
I believe that the V-280 auto-rotation envelope was defined during Bell’s testing, and while limited was found acceptable to the U.S. Army. The Lockheed/Sikorsky/Boeing SB-1 was not able to define its envelope since it only flew for ~65 hours. However, it is a known fact that rigid, co-axial rotor systems have significant problems with performing auto-rotation due to low rotor inertia and the up-flow through both rotors. Finally, having dual engines that are extremely reliable, has made the ability to auto-rotate a less than flight-critical attribute, and this has been proven in hundreds of thousands of flight hours by dual engine helicopters.
Josiah Green says
You are clearly a paid shill for Bell. Maybe try making it less obvious next time?
Regarding the autorotation requirement. The original solicitation for whet became the V-22 specified that the crash survivability requirement (a new concept at the time) under specified conditions could be met through either autorotation or gliding. Because of government specified constraints on the V-22 design, the V-22 can autorotate, but poorly (something shared with other large helicopters). Bell/Boeing chose to meet the requirement via gliding to a short roll-on. Since the requirement was met via gliding, the autorotation option was dropped from the final specification.
Comparing the V-280 to the V-22 is or UH-60 is not valid in my opinion other than proving new generation aircraft are always better. Like how the F-22 is better than the F-15!
What the comparison should be is V-280 to its competition the Defiant-X. It has a 230 knot air-speed, longer range than UH-60, smaller rotor footprint etc. I have no doubt the V-280 is better than a UH-60 or V-22, but is it better than the helicopter it was competing against?
The SB1 was late to start flying and experienced a mishap early on. The Army tested coaxial rotor systems back in the late 70s and found them too complex. The SB1 flew for less than 30 hours vs 200 for the V280. The SB1 didn’t make the range requirements and only plans to meet them using the Army’s FATE engine which is not operational. The Army’s main focus was range & speed which the V280 is far superior in both categories.
John Ferraro says
Outstanding article Mr. Hollings. I also highly recommend that people read the December 8th article on the War Zone by Tyler Rogoway, which supports Mr. Hollings perspective.
I believe people need to get past the “tilt-rotors are unsafe” mentality, because the facts don’t support that mind-set at all, as shown perfectly in this article.
What doubters are missing is that conventional helicopters are essentially useless in modern warfare unless they stay behind the front lines doing logistics. There is a very good reason why both Russian and Ukrainian helicopters are no longer crossing the front lines: they got tired of being ducks in a shooting gallery. Additionally, conventional helicopters are essentially useless in a Pacific conflict because of the ranges and speeds needed to just participate in the conflict; the Bell map in this article tells the story loud and clear. The SB-1 is classed as a compound helicopter, but in reality it is a rigid-rotor, co-axial helicopter with an auxiliary thrusting propeller and no wing; an iteration of a conventional helicopter.
If we had an honest performance comparison of the V-280 and SB-1 against the Army’s RFP requirements, we would find out that the SB-1 could not and never would meet even the minimum threshold requirements for speed and range in a combat configuration. A truism of aircraft design is that you will never have sustainable speed and sustainable long range when your main propulsion system is parallel to the line of flight; the SB-1 just proved this truism once again.
To Bell’s credit they have done an outstanding job of taking the lessons learned from hundreds of thousands of V-22 flight hours and incorporated them into the V-280. Each generation of tilt-rotor aircraft has improved the breed and provided critically needed capabilities to the U.S. Military. That is why the American Aerospace Industry is the best in the world.
The V-280 is the right aircraft, at the right time, for the U.S. Army’s aviation branch to remain an effective combat arm of the U.S. military.
Johnathan Galt says
Compared to it’s competition, the V-280 Carrie’s more load faster and further. That might be offset by cost, or not. However, there is fundamentally no substantive difference in either craft’s complexity or safety inherent in either design. If maximum mission profile per unit is the most pressing requirement, it looks like they made the right choice.
Thank you very much and will look for more postings from you
제이나인 검증 카지