The competition between the two Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR TD) aircraft, which will be used in the risk reduction of technologies to be incorporated in the upcoming joint Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programme, is approaching. Bell is preparing for the maiden flight of the V-280 Valor tilt-rotor before the end of 2017 at Amarillo, Texas. It was announced on October 11 that the Valor’s General Electric T64-GE-419 engines had their first full-power ground run.
Its competitor, the compound rigid-rotor Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant, powered by Honeywell T55 engines, will fly at West Palm Beach, Florida in 2018. The two flight test programmes will include 150–200 hours of flight through 2019.
Under current planning, FVL aircraft will not be in production until the 2030s, but the US Army wants advanced technologies sooner than that. A memorandum issued in October by US Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley identified the service’s top five modernisation priorities, which included future vertical lift, attack, and reconnaissance, “in manned, unmanned, and optionally manned variants”. Interest in accelerating these technologies has been apparent since 2016, when the Army asked the JMR TD demonstrator teams whether production could start in the 2020s rather than 2030s if they had access to funding.
However, the V-280 design, likely to be the first JMR TD to fly, will have to convince the Army to invest its aviation future in tilt-rotors rather than helicopters, which may well be an uphill struggle. The Army will keep the requirements for FVL open, to accommodate either competitor, until flight testing is completed in 2019. David C Isby