The Bell V-280 tilt-rotor aircraft the company has built for the US Army’s future long-range assault aircraft (FLRAA) joint multi-role technology demonstration (JMR-TD) program, has successfully demonstrated its ability to fly autonomously.
On December 18, the aircraft conducted two flights at the company’s Arlington, Texas facility, where it performed autonomous takeoffs, conversion into cruise mode, navigation to various waypoints, loiter manoeuvres, conversion into vertical-takeoff-and-landing mode, and autonomous landings. The company noted that the flights were conducted with safety pilots onboard, and that the pilots intervened between each manoeuvre.
The V-280 is pitted against the coaxial Sikorsky Boeing SB-1 Defiant for FLRAA. Both FLRAA and the smaller future attack reconnaissance aircraft (FARA) are designed to begin replacing most of the US Army’s light to medium rotorcraft through its future vertical lift (FVL) program from 2028.
The US Army has expressed a desire that FLRAA and FARA have the ability to conduct autonomous operations. Bell says the V-280 demonstrator has conducted 160 flight hours, and has demonstrated its ability to fly at 280 knots, more than 100 knots faster than the UH-60 Black Hawk it has been designed to replace.
Contract award for the successful FLRAA aircraft is scheduled for the third quarter of 2021, first flight in mid-2024, and service entry in the first quarter of 2030.