Tilt-rotor drones could be ready for production by 2023
November 28, 2016
It’s common to see a U.S. military tilt-rotor aircraft flying overhead in some parts of the world. Soon, unmanned versions of the helicopter-airplane hybrid could join the ever-growing fleet of American drone aircraft.
Bell Helicopter unveiled plans in late September to produce and field a tilt-rotor drone called the V-247 Vigilant. It is expected to have the runway independence, lethal range and speed of a V-22 Osprey — Bell’s most popular tilt-rotor aircraft — but will be smaller, which is more advantageous for placing it onto sea-based platforms with limited space.
Through plug-and-play mission packages, the Vigilant will be able to carry a significant payload and execute electronic-warfare, intelligence, surveillance-and-reconnaissance, escort, command-and-control, communications and fire missions.
The drones are in the concept-development phase, and Bell is working to identify the military’s needs before production begins.
The Vigilant, which does not yet have a price tag, could be ready for production as early as 2023.
“The advantage that the Bell V-247 Vigilant provides is that it does not need a runway or other airfield resources,” said Vince Tobin, vice president of Advanced Tiltrotor Systems for Bell Helicopter. “It can, therefore, be co-located with the units on a ship or in the field that will make use of the asset. This reduces the issues associated with link-up at the proper place and time for the unit prosecuting military operations and the fixed-wing [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] that may be taking off from a runway hundreds of miles away.”
There are many instances in which a vertical-takeoff-and-landing platform is more advantageous than a fixed-wing, runway-launched platform, Tobin said.
“In those cases, the Bell V-247 Vigilant provides the speed, range, payload and flexibility to meet mission requirements,” he said.
With the recent success of the V-22 Osprey in Iraq and Afghanistan and in humanitarian operations across the Pacific, Bell’s Advanced Tiltrotor Systems program team, which supported development of the Army’s V-280 Valor, came up with the Vigilant a little more than a year ago, Bell officials said.
The single-engine aircraft looks more like a drone than an Osprey and likely will boast a 65-foot wingspan and 30-foot-diameter rotors. Its maximum gross weight is expected to be about 29,500 pounds. It is designed to support an MK-50 torpedo and Hellfire or Joint Air-to-Ground missiles.
The Vigilant is expected to be able to cruise at more than 250 knots and to remain on station for 11 hours, with a mission radius of about 450 nautical miles. It also is designed with air-to-air refueling capabilities and compatibility with guided-missile destroyer hangars and will feature electro-optical and targeting systems.
With two aircraft, the Vigilant should be able to provide 24-hour intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. There are no plans to have the drones carry troops.
“The Bell V-247 Vigilant will give military customers the capabilities needed to reduce the complexity of deployment, increase speed of employment, reduce mission times and increase response time,” Tobin said.
Bell officials said the Vigilant is compatible with the capabilities outlined in the 2016 Marine Corps Aviation Plan. Marine Corps officials did not make a subject-matter expert available to Stars and Stripes for this report.