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US reveals futuristic helicopter that will replace Black Hawks

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 12/6/2022 Nick Allen, Dominic Nicholls
America's new V-280 'Valor' helicopters will take off and land vertically © Provided by The Telegraph America's new V-280 'Valor' helicopters will take off and land vertically

The US Army is set to buy thousands of futuristic aircraft to replace its iconic Black Hawk helicopters.

America's new V-280 "Valor" helicopters will take off and land vertically, but be able to tilt their propellers, allowing them to fly at speeds similar to a fixed-wing plane.

The new machines will travel roughly twice as fast, and have several times the refuelling range of the current Black Hawks, which have ferried soldiers around war zones for 40 years.

Amid the growing threat from China, the US wants its helicopters to have the capability to cover huge distances over the Pacific, while still performing tight manoeuvres delivering troops to battlefields.

Steve Trimble, defence editor of US-based Aviation Week, said: "The US Army is preparing to be ready to fight a war in the Pacific against a peer adversary.

"Those assumptions require an aircraft with much more speed and range, and that doesn't need a runway to take off and land. So an aircraft like the V-280 is exactly what they think they need for that future scenario."

The future helicopter programme, of which Valor is a part, is expected to replace 2,000 Black Hawks, and 1,200 Apache attack helicopters, by about 2030.

The V-280 has a combat range of 920 miles and can hit speeds of more than 345 miles per hour, while the Black Hawk only has a range of 370 miles and a top speed of 183 mph. Each V-280 will be able to carry 14 soldiers.

Black Hawks, the US Army's workhorse in the skies, built by Sikorsky, have been indelibly linked to America's military history since entering service in 1979.

They were named after Black Hawk, a Native American leader of the Sauk tribe.

Black Hawks went on to be used in every major US operation since the invasion of Grenada in 1983, including extensive use in the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 1993 two Black Hawks were shot down in Mogadishu, Somalia, an incident portrayed in the Hollywood movie "Black Hawk Down".

The Valor is expected to replace 2,000 Black Hawks, and 1,200 Apache attack helicopters, by about 2030 © Provided by The Telegraph The Valor is expected to replace 2,000 Black Hawks, and 1,200 Apache attack helicopters, by about 2030

Black Hawks used in bin Laden operation 

Later, in 2011 Black Hawks were used in Operation Neptune Spear, the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed. Barack Obama later revealed that those particular Black Hawks had been "modified for stealth".

The Valor helicopters will be built by Bell with an initial contract from the Pentagon of up to $1.3 billion.

Potentially, that could rise to as much as $70 billion, depending on how many are ultimately ordered by the US and its allies.

So-called "tiltrotor" aircraft were first introduced by the US Marine Corps to get troops from ship to shore with the speed of a fixed-wing plane and the versatility of helicopters.

The Marine Corps said the first such aircraft, the V-22 Osprey, was intended to "shrink the battlespace".

Bell's Valor helicopters work in a similar way to the Osprey, which was used in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been flown from HMS Prince of Wales, Britain's newest aircraft carrier.

Mr Trimble said the Valor had some "inherent advantages" over the Osprey, including being able to tilt its rotors without also tilting the engines.

Biggest US helicopter development in four decades

The Pentagon has officially called its new helicopter the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft. It was the US Army's biggest decision on helicopter development in four decades.

In being chosen, the Valor beat a helicopter being developed by Sikorsky and Boeing called the "Defiant X", which featured stacked rotors spinning in opposite directions to give extra stability.

In a statement Bell said the Valor had an "unmatched combination of proven tiltrotor technology" and would give soldiers the "speed and range they need to compete and win".

The company added: "We intend to honour that trust by building a truly remarkable and transformational weapon system to meet the Army’s mission requirements."

An initial prototype for the Valor is expected by about 2025.

Black Hawks will still be built until the 2030s. In June the Pentagon ordered 120 more Black Hawks with the potential for another 135.

Douglas Bush, assistant secretary of the US Army, said the choice of the Valor represented a "momentous day for our Army".

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