The United States Department of Defense’s Future Vertical Lift Program has been working to develop a new generation of improved vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft for the U.S. Armed Forces.
The program aims to find a replacement for the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk, which is close to retirement. However, the program may have found a potential successor – Bell Helicopter’s V-280 – which incorporates carbon fiber in the helicopter’s wing, fuselage and tail.
The V-280 has 11 investing partners who worked on various elements of the plane, including: GKN Aerospace (the plane’s tail structure), Spirit AeroSystems (the plane’s fuselage), Eagle Technologies (the tiltrotor), and Toray Composites America (supplied carbon fiber prepregs).
According to Aviation Week, the V-280’s “major components” are its carbon fiber wing, prop rotor gearbox and composite yoke for the rotor hub. The outlet adds that the wing is the first use of large-cell carbon core composites—a sandwich of carbon-fiber skins and honeycomb. The hub yoke is laid up from composite fabrics and uses open-face tooling around the edges. The V-280 also has the first all-carbon tiltrotor blade. All of these elements helped cut overall weight and cost for the helicopter.
The V-280 would also be one of the fastest military helicopters in the world, with a cruising speed of 280 knots (approx. 322 mph). The Black Hawk’s cruising speed is 150 knots (170 mph).
“It carries the same payload twice as fast and has twice the range,” says Vince Tobin, vice president for advanced tiltrotor systems at Bell Helicopters. “If you put the same payload on a Black Hawk, you have to stop at half the distance, and while the Black Hawk was stopping for fuel, the V-280 would be landing at its destination.”
Popular Mechanics reports that the V-280 is scheduled for its first flight in September of 2017 and will eventually be evaluated against the Sikorsky/Boeing SB-1, which claims a top speed of 250 knots (287 mph).