Category Archives: Helicopters

Bell V-280 Valor Conducts First Cruise Mode Test Flight as Program Advances

Second Milestone in 30 Days as New Light Tiltrotor Progresses to Max Speed Test.

Bell’s V-280 Valor light tiltrotor aircraft has flown in level flight with its tiltrotors in the horizontal/cruise mode for the first time this week. The aircraft reached 190 knots (218 MPH) during the flight.

The new Bell V-280 Valor is a medium, tactical tiltrotor aircraft designed for the U.S. Army Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) program. The JMR-TD program is a precursor for the Army’s overall Future Vertical Lift (FVL) co-development and evaluation of possible replacements for existing rotorwing aircraft in five different roles. The V-280 Valor is a proposed candidate for a new JMR-Medium utility and attack helicopter to potentially replace the UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter and the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

The Bell V-280 is reportedly capable of a maximum speed of 280 knots or 322 MPH, hence the name “V-280”. That is significantly faster than the U.S. Army’s existing UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters’ maximum speed of 192 knots or 222 MPH and nearly as fast as the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft with a top speed at sea level of 305 knots or 351 MPH according to Bell Boeing. 

The V-280 Valor is intended to carry up to 14 troops in a tactical personnel transport configuration with a crew of four including two flight crew and two gunner/loadmasters. It may also be developed with the capability to be an attack helicopter with various weapons onboard as depicted early in the program in a concept video showing an animated assault on a high altitude insurgent camp during hot weather. High altitude/hot weather flight conditions, called “High and Hot”, are challenging for most existing rotor wing aircraft. The V-280 will be optimized for high and hot operations.

While similar in visual configuration to the existing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor in service with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marines, the V-280’s engines remain in a fixed position on the wing while only the tiltrotors change geometry from vertical flight to horizontal flight. One advantage to this system is that both tiltrotors on the V-280 can operate off a single engine. On the V-22 Osprey both of the entire engine nacelles rotate during the transition from vertical to horizontal flight and the engine drive systems are fully segregated from each other, but joined by a complex gear box so the aircraft can operate on one engine.

The wing section of the V-280 is a unique single-piece composite construction. (Photo: Bell Helicopters)

Another unique feature of the V-280 Valor is the one-piece carbon fiber composite wing section. The one-piece composite wing uses Large Cell Carbon Core technology, reducing costs by over 30% compared to the construction of the V-22 Osprey wing. The one-piece wing is also integral to the ability of the twin tiltrotors to operate off power from only one engine if needed.

The Bell V-280 Valor competes with the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant aircraft in the JMR-TD program. The SB-1 Defiant uses two contra-rotating rotors and a “pusher” style tail rotor in a more traditional helicopter configuration as compared to the Bell V-280 tiltrotor design.

As the V-280 program advances through flight testing the aircraft has now flown 27 hours with approximately 90 hours of time turning the rotors in ground and flight tests. The aircraft has demonstrated its ground taxi and hover capability as well as low-altitude maneuvers including 360-degree pedal turns and forward/aft/lateral repositions along with 60 knot roll-on landings.

The next phase of flight operations for the V-280 will include maximum speed flights scheduled for some time within the next 90 days according to Bell. “During the summer, we plan on reaching most of the required performance parameters that were part of the test program,” said Jeffrey Schloesser, Bell’s executive vice president of strategic pursuits, during an interview last month with Aviation Week.

An interesting part of the advancements in the test program is that now the Bell V-280 is accompanied during test flights by an Aero L-39 jet chase plane because of the V-280’s increasing speed in testing.

U.S. Marines Request Contractors To Provide Russian-Built Mi-24 Hind Attack Helicopters

Russian Mi-24 Attack or Mi-17 Transport Helicopters Could Augment Training Authenticity.

A report in the Marine Corps Times from Friday, April 27 by journalist Kyle Rempfer revealed that the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force Training Command has filed a solicitation for contractors to provide Russian-built Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter or an Mi-17 Hip transport helicopter to serve as accurate opposing forces threat simulation aircraft.

The aircraft would be equipped with electronic tracking pods for integration into simulated combat exercises at the MCAS Yuma Range and Training Area (RTA), a large training facility in the Arizona desert. The Yuma Range and Training Area accurately replicates current and potential threat environments throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Rempfer’s report for the Marine Corps Times, the solicitation read in part,
“The [Mi-24] attack helicopter, due to its size, flight profile, firepower and defensive maneuvering capabilities, constitutes a unique threat creating a realistic, dissimilar and credible opposing force.”

In their potential role as a technically realistic opposing force flying against U.S. Marine ground forces in training the helicopters would accurately replicate the threat capabilities of many potential adversary forces. While the Mi-24 attack helicopter is primarily an air-to-ground attack helicopter the report also mentioned a potential role for any Russian helicopters acquired or contracted as providing a simulated opposing force capability against U.S. Marine Helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft to possibly include the UH-1Y Venom, AH-1Z Super Cobra and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

The U.S. Marine Training Command’s request went on to read, “The scope of this effort is to provide familiarization of flight characteristics, capabilities and limitations of the foreign adversary rotary-wing and propeller driven aircraft,” according to the solicitation. “This will be accomplished by having accessibility to two foreign adversary contractor-provided aircraft that shall participate in certain exercise events as part of a realistic opposing force.”

The request for the opposing forces helicopters will include up to five annual training operations and a maximum of 40 total hours of flight time in VFR (daylight, fair weather Visual Flight Rules) conditions. Of further interest is a notation indicating interest in fixed wing aircraft. Russian fixed wing aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-27 have already been observed and photographed flying over the Nellis Training Range in Nevada.

A privately owned Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter at Nellis AFB, Nevada. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

In the combined air/ground combat role most commonly performed by the U.S. Marine Corps one relevant adversary aircraft for threat simulation may include the Sukhoi Su-25 (NATO codename “Frogfoot”), although no specific information indicates an interest in the Su-25 from the U.S. Marines.

A remarkable 57 countries currently use the Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter, built at the Mil Helicopter Plant in Moscow, Russia. The aircraft is infamous in western nations for its rugged survivability and significant combat capability. The request for actual Mi-24 Hind helicopters seems to acknowledge the type’s unique and significant capabilities as a potential adversary.

There are currently at least two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters privately owned in the U.S. by the Lancaster Air Museum in Lancaster, Texas. The aircraft fly frequently at events and airshows around the country.

Details Emerge About Tragic Loss of Elite Air Force Pararescue Crew and Helicopter in Iraq.

A USAF HH-60 From Alaska Crashes, Crew of Seven Die Near Al-Qaim, Iraq on Thursday.

All seven crew members on board a U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter were killed when it crashed in Iraq on Thursday, March 15, 2018. The aircraft belonged to the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. None of the crew killed in the crash were from Alaska according to a report filed in the Air Force Times on Friday, March 16, by journalist Stephen Losey.

The crash occurred in Anbar Province outside Al-Qaim, Iraq on the Syrian/Iraqi border 400 kilometers northwest of Baghdad along the Euphrates River.

The cause of the crash is unknown at this time. A New York Times story published Friday, March 16, 2018 by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Al Baker reported that, “American officials could not immediately say why the aircraft went down killing all seven service members on board, although enemy fire was not believed to be the cause.”

The HH-60G Pave Hawk is an Air Force specific version of the Blackhawk helicopter with significant modifications for the combat rescue role and it is generally regarded as the most advanced version of the aircraft. Photos of the HH-60G Pave Hawks based at the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing often show the aircraft operating in the high mountains, equipped with snow-ski landing gear. When deployed to the Middle East the aircraft uses standard landing gear. The website for the Alaska Air National Guard 176th Wing lists only one squadron, the 210th Rescue Squadron, as operating the HH-60G. The 210th Rescue Squadron lists six HH-60G Pave Hawks on their official Air Force unit page.

The Air Force Times identified one of the Airmen killed in the crash as USAF Staff Sgt. Carl Enis. Sgt. Enis was an Air Force Reserve Pararescue operator from the 308th Rescue Squadron, 920th Rescue Wing from Patrick Air Force Base in Brevard County, Florida. As a reserve Air Force Pararescueman, Enis also had a civilian career as a commercial real estate salesman in Tallahassee, Florida. He was described in media reports as, “an avid outdoorsman and devoted friend who had a knack for bringing people from different backgrounds together”.

Pararescue operator Staff Sgt. Carl Enis of the 308th Rescue Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, is reported to be among the service members who died in the HH-60G Pavehawk crash in Iraq late Thursday. (Photo: Courtesy USAF)

Not all of the names of the personnel who died in Thursday’s crash have been released. USAF Central Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Damien Pickart reported via email on Friday that two of the seven airmen killed were Pararescue operators. Lt. Col. Pickart indicated the Department of Defense is expected to post the names and units of all of the airmen by Saturday afternoon.

A post did appear on the New York City Fire Department’s Facebook page saying that two of its firefighters, Christopher Zanetis and Christopher Raguso, were also killed in Thurday’s crash. Their Air Force rank was not indicated in the post.

The ABC affiliate in New York, ABC7, reported that Zanetis and Raguso and an additional two Airmen killed in the crash were members of the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing from Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, New York.

U.S. Air Force Pararescue units are credited with saving “over 1,000 lives in the Global War on Terror since 9/11” according to a 2011 report. During the 2005 hurricane Katrina between Florida and Texas in the United States, Air Force Pararescue operators of the 943rd Rescue Group from Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona were credited with rescuing 1,043 people. Air Force Pararescue is generally regarded as one of the most capable special operations units in the world specifically tasked with combat rescue operations.

Top image: File photo of USAF HH-60G Pavehawk helicopter of the 210th Rescue Squadron. (Photo: USAF)

Bell V-280 Valor Next-Generation Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Prototype Has Just Made Its First Flight

The Bell V-280 Valor prototype has successfully achieved first flight at the Bell Helicopter assembly facility in Amarillo, TX.

On Dec. 18, the first prototype of the V-280 Valor, registration N280BH, performed its first flight at Bell Helicopter Amarillo Assembly Center.

Interestingly, both the images and the footage released by Bell Helicopter have been doctored to hide some details of the Valor’s T64-GE-419 tilting gearbox design: unlike the V-22‘s engines that rotate along with the gearboxes, in the V-280, the gearbox is the only thing that rotates.

Anyway, the gearbox is clearly visible in the images we have published on Aug. 30.

The V-280 Valor is Bell’s submission for the U.S. Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) phase, the technology demonstration precursor to Future Vertical Lift (FVL), a replacement for the service’s Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters.

The V-280 will have a crew of 4 (including two pilots) and be capable of transporting up to 14 troops. Its cruising speed will be 280 knots (hence the designation V-280) and its top speed will be 300 kts. It’s designed for a range of 2,100 nautical miles and an effective combat range of 500 to 800 nmi although the Army’s requirements for the demonstrator call for hot and high hover performance (at 6,000 feet and 95 F), and the ability to self-deploy 2,100 nautical miles at a speed of at least 230 knots.

A front view of the V-280 during its first flight. Note the blurred gearbox details. (All images: Bell Helicopters).

H/T our friend Isaac Alexander (@jetcitystar) for the heads-up.

These Photos Show U.S. Army AH-64E Apache Supporting The Fight Against ISIS With New Counter IR Missile Systems

Here are some interesting shots of U.S. Army attack choppers equipped with LAIRCM.

U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack choppers supporting the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq have received Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-24 large aircraft infrared countermeasure (LAIRCM) system.

According to the service, the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment was the first unit to operate the U.S. Army’s new LAIRCM aircraft survivability equipment in combat last summer. LAIRCM is a DIRCM (Directional Infrared Counter Measures) an acronym used to describe any infrared countermeasure system that tracks and directs energy towards heat seeking missiles.

Several U.S. Army helicopters provide support to Operation Inherent Resolve: rotary-wing assets operate from multiple Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) in the region, pairing with RQ-7Bv2 Shadow Unmanned Aerial System, which performs reconnaissance and surveillance for the coalition forces. The Shadow UAS identifies enemy personnel and hands the target off to either the AH-64E Apache helos or to the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” drones, the two U.S. Army’s air strike platforms in theatre.

US Army AH-64Es from Task Force Saber in Sarrin, Syria on Jul. 28, 2017. LAIRCM GLTA highlighted in the photo. (Credit: U.S. Army)

In order to perform their tasks, the attack helicopters operate at low altitude, well within the envelope of MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) possibly in the hands of Daesh fighters. Shoulder-fired missiles have long been a concern in Syria, especially in the past years when MANPADS were occasionally used (also by Free Syrian Army militants to bring down Assad regime helicopters).

MANPADS in ISIS hands have made the Syrian battlefield more dangerous to low flying helos and aircraft as proved by the fact that U.S. and coalition aircraft have been targeted by man-portable systems while flying their missions over Syria in the past. For this reason, the U.S. Army Apaches have been equipped with what appears to be the Department of the Navy Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (DON LAIRCM) system with the Advanced Threat Warning (ATW) upgrade.

The AN/AAQ-24V turret (Northrop Grumman)

The DON LAIRCM system, a variant of the U.S. Air Force LAIRCM system for fixed wing aircraft, is a defensive system designed to protect the asset against surface-to-air infrared missile threats. According to official documents, the system combines two-color infrared missile warning sensors with the Guardian Laser Transmitter Assembly (GLTA). The missile warning sensor detects an oncoming missile threat and sends the information to the processor, which then notifies the crew through the control interface unit and simultaneously directs the GLTA to slew to and begin jamming the threat.

The ATW capability upgrades the processor and missile warning sensors to provide improved missile detection, and adds hostile fire and laser warning capability with visual/audio alerts to the pilots.

LAIRCM System (Northrop Grumman)

The U.S. Navy plans to fully integrate the DON LAIRCM ATW system on the MV-22 and KC-130J with the mission system software whereas the Army plans to integrate AH-64, UH/HH-60, and CH-47 helicopters.

H/T Babak Taghvaee for providing the images of the AH-64Es included in this post.