Bell and Leonardo Helicopters are to work together to explore future military opportunities for tiltrotor technologies – dashing Airbus Helicopters’ hopes of an alliance with its European counterpart for an upcoming NATO contract.

Announced at the Heli-Expo show on 28 February, the pact – the subject of a memorandum of understanding – will see the pair “evaluate co-operation opportunities in the tiltrotor technology domain”.


Source: Bell

V-280 has been selected by the US Army as long-term replacement for the Black Hawk

As a first step, they will submit a joint response to the latest tender issued by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency seeking concept studies for the alliance’s Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability (NGRC) programme.

Leonardo Helicopters will lead that submission, with Bell offering support, the Italian manufacturer says.

The alliance is a blow for Airbus Helicopters which had been hoping to propose what officials described as a “fully joint European answer” to the NGRC tender. The airframer was not immediately available to comment on the decision.

At this stage it is unclear what impact the move will have on the cohesion of the grouping leading the NGRC effort, which comprises France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK, with Canada expected to join shortly.

Bidders have until 26 April to submit their responses to the tender, with contracts to be awarded in July.

Bell has long experience with military tiltrotors, developing, alongside Boeing, the V-22 Osprey, and more recently having seen its V-280 Valor selected by the US Army for the service’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft programme.

Leonardo says further opportunities have been identified in Europe and the USA, including potentially the joint promotion of the AW609 tiltrotor, which is still in development, for the governmental market.

Should that happen, it will see Bell reunited with a programme that was a joint development between the two companies until Bell sold its interest in 2011.

Announcing the pact, Bell chief executive Lisa Atherton says the two companies “are pioneers in the tiltrotor space”, adding: “It makes all the sense in the world for us to jointly explore cooperative opportunities.”

Gian Piero Cutillo, managing director of Leonardo Helicopters, says there is a “request from the military market to try and overcome the embedded limitations of the helicopter.

“We believe a tilting technology is the answer, so let’s explore this together.”

Leonardo continues a separate study on behalf of the Italian military which is seeking to identify the best architecture for a future high-speed rotorcraft.

Initial work was in collaboration with Sikorsky related to its X2 coaxial-compound technology, but that has since been broadened to include other architectures, says Cutillo.

Leonardo expects to submit its recommendation to the Italian ministry of defence later this year.