Aviation

Bell nearing first flight for V-280 tiltrotor aircraft

A crew at Bell Helicopter’s Amarillo Assembly Center work on the company’s first prototype V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft, the fuselage of which was built by Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita.
A crew at Bell Helicopter’s Amarillo Assembly Center work on the company’s first prototype V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft, the fuselage of which was built by Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita. Courtesy photo

Bell Helicopter said Wednesday it has completed assembly of its prototype V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft – with a fuselage made by Spirit AeroSystems.

The clean-sheet design aircraft is Fort Worth-based Bell’s offering in the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program. The program aims to replace about 2,000 medium-class utility and attack helicopters in the Army’s fleet.

Bell and Lockheed Martin are competing against a Boeing and Sikorsky team in the program. The Army plans to evaluate the proposals in 2019.

Bell, a sister company to Textron Aviation, said now that it has completed the prototype Valor, it is preparing for an initial ground test at the company’s Amarillo (Texas) Assembly Center.

“We will have more updates on the platform soon and remain excited for first flight this fall,” Bell said in a news release on Wednesday.

Spirit delivered the Valor’s composite fuselage to Bell in September 2015.

It took Spirit just less than two years to design and manufacture the fuselage, and its delivery was about a month ahead of schedule.

Spirit CEO Tom Gentile has said he wants to double Spirit’s work on defense programs, which represents less than 5 percent of its overall business.

Should Bell win a contract for the V-280, it would definitely help Spirit move closer to Gentile’s goal.

Its other defense work includes Boeing’s KC-46 air refueling tanker for the Air Force and the P-8A Poseidon for the Navy as well as Sikorsky’s new CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter for the Marines.

Spirit also will do work on Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider stealth bomber, though the company has not disclosed the type of work.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark

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