In the mid-1970s the U.S. Army initiated Future Vertical Lift (FVL) and Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) programs. Some of the craft to come out of those initiatives include the Defiant X helicopter and the UH-60 Blackhawk, which lifted off in 1975. Though the Defiant had many desirable features, it didn’t win the contract bid. Although true to form for military contracting world competition, that bidding decision is currently under protest – and now we’re going to take a look at the chopper that won the contract: the Bell V-280 Valor assault/utility tiltrotor warbird.
V-280 Valor History and Specifications
The Valor made her maiden flight on December 18, 2017, in Amarillo, Texas, though she had actually been officially unveiled at the Army Aviation Association of America’s Annual Professional Forum and Exposition in Fort Worth back in 2013. As the manufacturer, Bell Textron, proclaims on its official info page:
“Purpose-built to revolutionize the reach and effectiveness of each mission while offering unmatched maneuverability, reduced downtime and elevated mission safety. With over twice the speed and range as current weapons systems, the Bell V-280 Valor is the proven long-range maneuver solution … Combining the speed and range of the turboprop with advanced agility greater than a traditional helicopter, the Bell V-280 Valor offers better flight performance and lifecycle sustainability. This weapon system was purpose built to revolutionize U.S. Army overmatch in multi-domain operations.”
Specifications include a fuselage length of 50.5 feet, a width of 81.79 feet, a height of 23 feet, an empty weight of 18,078 pounds, and a max takeoff weight of 30,865 lbs. Cruise speed is 320 miles per hour (280 knots), with a combat range of 500-98 nautical miles and a service ceiling of 6,000 feet. The whirlybird carries a crew of 4, with a carrying capacity of 14 troops.
Why the Victorious Valor Defeated Defiant
Tyler Rogoway of The Drive provides us with some highly insightful perspectives on how the Valor won the hearts and minds of the Army acquisition bigwigs.
“What the V-280 had going for it was maturity. There is no way around this. Bell spent decades developing the V-22 Osprey through an arduous process and has since fielded hundreds of them that have racked-up huge sums of operational hours in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. The Osprey has its issues still, but it has also been successful in surviving massively bad press and extreme controversy. Today, MV-22s and CV-22s, and now CMV-22s, operate all over the world all day every day. This is a fact. There is not a compound coaxial rigid-rotor helicopter, like Defiant, doing anything similar at this time.”
Wait on the Protest? Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That
As previously mentioned, the Army’s contract award decision is under protest. More specifically, Lockheed Martin – one of the co-builders of the Defiant along with Boeing and Sikorsky – lodged its protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on December 28, 2022, arguing that the Army had a predetermined outcome for the competition that undermined equal treatment of the offerors; that subjectivity tainted the comparison of competing designs; that some criteria used in selecting a winner were not articulated in the solicitation; and that the claim of a best-value selection was belied by the significantly higher bid that Bell/Textron submitted for a design not materially better than the Sikorsky-Boeing offering.
Bell isn’t content to rest on its laurels, its competitor’s unresolved protest notwithstanding; Recently Bell broke ground on a $20M facility in Grand Prairie, Texas. the new facility is 37,775 square feet in dimension, with a targeted construction completion in 2024 and commencement of operations slated for 2025.
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.