Spirit AeroSystems is ramping up its work in the defense industry following Bell Helicopter’s announcement Monday that it selected Spirit to build the fuselage of a prototype tilt-rotor aircraft for the U.S. Army.
Fort Worth-based Bell, which is owned by Cessna Aircraft parent Textron, is proposing its V-280 Valor aircraft as a future replacement for part of the Army’s helicopter fleet. Bell said the Valor will have twice the speed and range of the Army helicopters the V-280 would replace.
Spirit officials said the announcement is important because it signifies Spirit’s commitment to expand its defense work, which is currently less than 5 percent of its overall business, primarily the manufacture of fuselages and other large structures for commercial aircraft.
“We think it’s the right kind of program for Spirit,” said Phil Anderson, Spirit’s senior vice president of defense and contracts. If the aircraft is accepted by the Army, it’s a program that should have a long life with the potential for thousands of deliveries, he said. Spirit, too, he noted, has lots of expertise in building aircraft fuselages and in working with composites and aircraft metals.
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Anderson added that Spirit has developed expertise in working with rotorcraft in recent years through its work on the fuselages of Sikorsky’s CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter program for the Navy and the Marines.
“Clearly our initial program with Sikorsky … was certainly an initial step to move into the defense market space,” he said. “I think this (Bell agreement) is a natural extension of that.”
Anderson said Spirit has delivered seven CH-53K fuselages so far.
Spirit’s other current defense program is the Navy PA-8 Poseidon, an aircraft that is a derivative of the Boeing 737, the fuselage of which is built by Spirit.
Anderson said he thinks Spirit was selected to build the Valor’s fuselage because of its capability to build such an aircraft at a cost that’s affordable. The intention now is to build the fuselages in Wichita.
Bell said in a fact sheet that the Valor will have a range of more than 2,100 nautical miles and a speed of 280 knots. It will be capable of transporting 11 troops and a crew of four.
Bell has experience in building tilt-rotor aircraft. It is a partner with Boeing on the V-22 Osprey, more than 450 of which are used by the Marines, Air Force and Navy. Bell said the V-280 is its third generation of tilt-rotor aircraft.
The first flight of the V-280 Valor is expected in 2017. It could replace between 2,000 and 4,000 medium-class utility and attack helicopters in the next few decades, a Spirit spokesman said.
Other aircraft manufacturing partners on the Valor are Lockheed Martin, Moog and GKN Aerospace.