The US Army announced its winner of the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program that will replace thousands of its medium-lift helicopters. As expected by many, Bell’s V-280 Valor won the competition making it the US Army’s next medium-lift assault aircraft. Serving as a multi-role workhorse it will gradually replace both the UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache helicopters.
As a tiltrotor, the US Army will follow the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy in adopting this revolutionary but controversial technology. The first FLRAA prototypes will be delivered in 2025 with operational vehicles entering service around 2030. Naturally, delays are possible.
The V-280 will offer incredible performance and flexibility over its predecessors. The performance in vertical mode puts any helicopter to shame with a demonstrated speed of 305 knots compared to 159 knots of the Black Hawk and Apache (565 km/h vs. 293 km/h). Its competitor, the Sikorsky/Boeing SB-1 Defiant, maxed out at 247 knots (457 km/h).
The combination of dual rotors and advanced flight control software enables great maneuverability in a hover and as early as December 2019 the aircraft had demonstrated autonomous flight capability. The V-280 had already been flying for two years at that point while Defiant only had 9 months in the air. Ultimately, Defiant never demonstrated autonomous flight.
Back in July 2020, Overt Defense reported on a US-UK agreement allowing British participation in the FLRAA program. Specifically, Rolls-Royce joined the Bell V-280 team to provide propulsion systems. It remains to be seen if the UK will follow and adopt the FLRAA winner.
While selected to replace the Army’s medium-lift fleet it will be a considerable time before the FLRAA can be built in sufficient numbers to properly do so. The massive legacy fleet of around 2,200 Black Hawk variants and 800 Apaches will not be replaced on a 1-for-1 basis and offer their own unique attributes which will likely keep them in service until at least mid-century.
Unsurprisingly with the news of the selection Textron Inc.’s stock went up 6% (at the time of writing) with the news that Textron is now established as a key member of the Army industrial team.