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Bell performs first autonomous V-280 flight

Bell on 18 December performed the first autonomous flight of its V-280 Valor tiltrotor technology demonstrator with a pair of sorties at its facility in metropolitan Dallas.

Keith Flail, Bell vice-president for advanced vertical lift systems, told Jane’s on 9 January that the aircraft had two safety pilots onboard and took off to a hover; climbed out; achieved level point; and performed waypoint navigation and climbs, turns, and descents. It also returned to its original take-off point, performed a full descent to a hover, and landed automatically, all without the pilots’ hands on the controls.

The Bell V-280’s tiltrotor nacelle as pictured on 8 January 2020 in Dallas. (Jane’s/Pat Host)

The Bell V-280’s tiltrotor nacelle as pictured on 8 January 2020 in Dallas. (Jane’s/Pat Host)

Ryan Ehinger, Bell V-280 and advanced tiltrotor systems programme manager, said on 8 January that these two autonomous sorties demonstrated the elements of autonomous flight and that the company has not performed a V-280 autonomous end-to-end demonstration. He said Bell uploaded a new version of its control laws to the aircraft on 6 December and that the company-developed autonomous guidance computer (AGC) first flew on the aircraft the morning of 18 December.

The V-280 flew two 20-minute sorties for this autonomy demonstration. Flail said the V-280 did not have the obstacle avoidance capability for the autonomous flights. He said that Bell would like to improve V-280 autonomy in different stages of manoeuvre and tighten control laws in future V-280 autonomous flights.

Flail declined to say when Bell expected to perform further V-280 autonomous flights as the company and the aircraft are transitioning out of the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) programme and into the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) competitive development and risk reduction (CD&RR) phase. The US Army in March will select two competitors for this phase.

The V-280 flies sideways on 8 January 2020 in Dallas. (Jane’s/Pat Host)

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