U.S. Army officials have announced that the Bell V-280 Valor has been selected as the successful bidder for the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) contract, which seeks to procure a successor to the venerable Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk.

After years of design work, demonstrator development, and flight tests of its advanced tiltrotor, Bell has received this award, representing a monumental achievement. The Army selected this helicopter over the other finalist, the Sikorsky-Boeing Defiant X compound coaxial helicopter.

Bell’s president and CEO, Mitch Snyder, said that as we modernize the Army’s aviation capabilities for decades to come, “this is an exciting time for the U.S. Army, Bell, and Team Valor.”

Bell, a longtime Army aviation supporter, says the world’s most developed, reliable, and affordable high-performance long-range assault weapon system can give soldiers the speed and range they need to win.

The first contract is worth $232 million over the next few months and will let Bell keep working on the basic design of the plane and deliver “virtual” prototypes. During this first part, no aircraft will be bought.

Still, the total value of the prize will reach tens of billions of dollars.

According to a statement released by the U.S. Army after the contract was awarded, virtual prototypes will facilitate design, integration, training, and development by allowing for rapid and low-cost iteration.

“This down-select represents a strategic pivot for Army Aviation to the transformational speed and range our Army needs to dominate future battlefields,” said Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team director Maj. Gen. Walter Rugen. The Army’s prototyping and risk-reduction efforts shortened the time to today’s announcement.

In 2019, the Army launched the FLRAA program as a part of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative to replace some of its assault and utility helicopter fleets.

Bell, however, had already shown off its Valor concept in 2013 for the U.S. Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program, which was the forerunner to FVL.

Since its maiden flight in December 2017, the V-280 has recorded 214 flight hours, passed the first Army test pilot flight in February 2018, demonstrated low-speed agility in February 2019, demonstrated autonomy in December 2019, demonstrated sling load in January 2020, and survived survivability testing in July 2020.

The new FLRAA fleet is expected to enter Army service around 2030. If the program proves successful, it could also fit the bill for other services looking to replace their versions of the UH-60 Black Hawk.

Bell had promoted the V-280 Valor as a third-generation tiltrotor, expanding upon its work with the Bell-Boeing V-22.

The V-22’s engine tilts along with its rotors, while the V-280 Valor remains stationary. Bell claims that the improved performance, maintainability, and longevity of the product, along with a decrease in manufacturing costs, make this design the best option.

Bell promoted the V-280 Valor’s “innovative digital engineering” and open architecture, in addition to the tiltrotor’s long and storied history.

“Over the past several years, the Bell team has demonstrated the V-280 Valor’s exceptional operational capabilities, digital thread synergies, and platform affordability enhancements,” said Keith Flail, executive vice president of Bell’s advanced vertical lift systems.

With our world-class manufacturing facilities and nearly seven decades of tiltrotor experience, Bell is prepared to provide the Army with a modern FLRAA fleet.

Bell has also been busy promoting the type’s utility, taking a full-scale mockup to airshows in various configurations, including a pure assault platform, a weapons platform with roll-on/roll-off capability, and a medevac platform.

The company has already established a digital manufacturing technology center in anticipation of the contract award. Snyder stated during a media briefing at the Farnborough International Airshow in July that Bell was eager to develop the digital design of the V-280 Valor but also to be ready to build the aircraft.

“We’re not just thinking about how we’ll design the aircraft, but also how we’ll build it,” he told reporters at the event. “All this data is sent back to the manufacturing technology center, where we can adjust any processes to make them run faster or address any issues.”

Sikorsky can protest the Army’s decision after receiving an official briefing, but the company has not yet confirmed whether it will do so.

“We remain confident that the Defiant X is the transformative aircraft the U.S. Army needs to accomplish its complex missions today and into the foreseeable future,” Sikorsky said in a brief statement in response to the contract award. After reviewing the Army’s comments, we’ll evaluate our next steps.

Bell and Sikorsky have made it to the final round of the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) competition, which aims to find a replacement for the Bell OH-58 Kiowa.

Sikorsky offers the Raider X, another compound coaxial design based on its X2 technology, and Bell proposes the 360 Invictus for this program.

This scalability of the X2 technology that Sikorsky used to develop the Raider and Defiant was discussed during a media briefing at July’s Farnborough International Airshow.

According to the company, the X2 technology could serve as the perfect foundation for NATO’s Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability (NGRC) program, which aims to create a new medium-lift helicopter for six members of NATO.