Bell Helicopter is confident that its new V-280 Valor tiltrotor will achieve the programme's targeted speed of 280kt (518km/h) later this summer, with the test aircraft having so far hit 190kt during initial transitions to forward flight.

"The chase plane is now an [Aero Vodochody] L-39 – we can't use a helicopter anymore as they are just not fast enough," Steve Mathias, vice-president of global military business development at the US manufacturer, told SMI's Helicopter Technology Eastern and Central Europe conference.

First flight of the V-280 – which has been produced for a US technology development effort – took place last December, and Bell has since accumulated around 30h on the platform, including sorties with its proprotors tilted horizontally.

"It is on track to hit 280kt by the summer. We are where we expected to be," says Mathias.

The aircraft is currently located at Bell's facility in Amarillo, Texas, but will move to its main Fort Worth site "later this year".

A second US Army test pilot has also now flown the aircraft, he says, following previous sorties with another army aviator on 7 February.

Bell is developing the V-280 as a risk-reduction exercise known as the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD), ahead of the USA's launch of its proposed Future Vertical Lift programme.

Mathias says the company is so confident in the V-280 that it could now theoretically move into the engineering, manufacturing and development phase of a typical US acquisition programme.

"We could go straight to the milestone B [decision] and cut out about four years of acquisition process," he says.

The JMR-TD phase is scheduled to last until 2019, with FVL likely to be launched in the early- or mid-2020s to begin deliveries in the 2030s.

Bell faces competition from a joint Sikorsky-Boeing team, which is building the SB-1 Defiant compound rotorcraft. However, that aircraft is running behind schedule and has yet to fly.