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Bell searching for customer to fund Vigilant design

After unveiling its new unmanned tiltrotor aircraft earlier this month, the V-247 Vigilant, Bell Helicopter isn’t sinking additional internal funds into the platform until a later design effort.

Bell has not formally pitched Vigilant, a single-engined 13,100kg (29,000lb) system that leverages autonomous control capabilities from Bell's previous Eagle Eye tiltrotor UAV, but the company has targeted the US Marine Corps as its favoured customer. In its 2016 Marine Aviation flight plan, the service outlined a future requirement for a large, armed platform capable of operating from ships to end the USMC’s reliance on the US Air Force’s fleet of MQ-9 Reapers and MQ-1 Predators for expeditionary missions.

Bell’s current plan is to continue funding V-247 through preliminary design, Vince Tobin, vice-president of advanced tiltrotor systems at Bell Helicopter, told reporters at the AUSA Annual meeting in Washington DC. But the company is searching for a customer, likely the USMC, to fund the follow on design effort, Tobin says.

“Comparison to investment for V-280, it’s relatively small at this point,” Tobin says. “I think it is time for the customer to tell us what the specific requirements are, allow us to design to those and get on with design and building.”

Bell’s larger investment in its V-280 Valor rotorcraft is part of its aggressive pursuit of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift contract. The Defense Department entered into co-operative research agreements with four industry teams, including Boeing-Sikorsky, Bell, AVX and Karem for a demonstration phase for the FVL programme. Valor and Sikorsky’s SB-1 Defiant are participating in a fly-off in 2017.

Bell’s full-scale mockup of the Valor at AUSA included its new flight display concept, which would assemble a quilt of glass tiles to minimize damage from ballistic impact to small areas of the display. The display system has not yet been developed and still needs an anti-glare coating, Jeremy Chavez V-280 mockup project lead told FlightGlobal.

Bell and Lockheed have also evolved their concept of Valor’s gun mounted on the chin turret. Although the gun is not a requirement for the utility configuration, the gun gives the aircraft a fortifying weapon system, Chavez says. In an older model on the floor, Bell shows a gun like the Apache’s M230 Chain Gun with the ability to slue. The new cannon is similar but fixed in the nose, Chavez says. Rather than rely on pivoting the weapon, the gun would deploy Lockheed Martin’s laser guided smart munitions, he says.

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