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Army taps firms to build futuristic helicopters

A Sikorsky-Boeing helicopter concept.
A Sikorsky-Boeing helicopter concept.

Bell Helicopter and a Sikorsky-Boeing team have won contracts to build experimental helicopters for the U.S. Army, the three aerospace companies said Aug. 12.

Under the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR TD) program, Bell will assemble a V-280 Valor, whose “tilt rotors” will allow the aircraft to take off and land like a helicopter and fly like a plane. The team of Sikorsky Aircraft and Boeing will provide an SB>1 Defiant, which will feature counter-rotating rotors atop the helicopter for vertical and forward flight, and a “pusher propeller” on its tail for high-speed acceleration and deceleration. Flight tests of both aircraft are expected to begin in 2017.

The two winners edged out two smaller competitors: AVX Aircraft and Karem Aircraft. All four entrants had been doing initial design work for JMR. After months of review, the Army Aviation Technology Directorate winnowed the field from four to two.

The JMR program is intended to develop improved technologies that could one day be fielded on successors to the Boeing Apache attack helicopter and the Sikorsky Black Hawk utility helicopter, among others. The Apache and Black Hawk are currently both workhorses for the Army, but the service would eventually like to field replacement aircraft with improved speed, range, reliability and survivability.

“As the original equipment manufacturers for both the Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, we bring tremendous technological breadth and depth to the customer,” Boeing Military Aircraft President Shelley Lavender said in a joint statement with Sikorsky.

Keith Flail, Bell's V-280 program director, said his company's aircraft will be able "to fly twice the range at double the speed of any existing helicopter."

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