MIGHTY TACTICAL

Bell Flight wants to make an awesome tilt-rotor drone

Bell Helicopter Textron, the company behind the tilt-rotor aircraft V-22 Osprey and the V-280 Valor, has proposed a tilt-rotor drone that would ferry supplies and provide persistent reconnaissance for Navy and Marine Corps commands around the world.

Bell Helicopters Textron, one of the companies behind the V-22 Osprey and the makers of a proposed Army tilt-rotor, are pitching a new drone for the Navy and Marine Corps that packs tilt-rotor technology into a large drone capable of carrying weapons, sensor platforms, and other payloads into combat.


The Bell V-247 Vigilant is to be an unmanned bird capable of operating at ranges of 1,300 nautical miles from its ship or base, carrying 2,000 pounds internally or a 9,000-pound sling load, or spending 12 hours time on station.

Of course, those numbers represent maximum endurance, maximum lift, or maximum range. A more likely mission profile combines all three. Bell says the aircraft will be capable of carrying a 600-pound payload 450 nautical miles for a mission with 8 hours time on station. It can also refuel in flight, further extending ranges and time on target.

(Bell Helicopters Textron)

And, with just two V-247s, a commander could establish 24-hour persistent reconnaissance of a target. That implies a much lower set of maintenance requirements than manned aircraft, since many require more hours of maintenance on the ground than they get in-flight hours.

Best of all, because the wings fold and it doesn't need space for a crew, the V-247 would fit in about the same amount of space on a ship as a UH-1Y, tight enough for it to land on Navy destroyers, whether to shuttle supplies or to refuel and re-arm for another mission.

(Bell Helicopters Textron)

For armament, Bell highlights its ability to fire air-to-surface missiles, helping Marines on the ground or potentially helping interdict fast boats during a swarm attack on the water.

All in, the design has a lot of the numbers that planners would want to see in a support aircraft. And, because it doesn't require a pilot, it can do a lot of complicated tasks while reducing the workload of the military's already strained pilot population. It's easy to see a role for an aircraft like this in fleet replenishment, in amphibious assault and air support, and in ship-to-shore logistics.

(Bell Helicopters Textron)

But, the Navy and Marine Corps are already on the hook for a large number of V-22 Ospreys. The Marine Corps has made the V-22 one of its most numerous aircraft, flying them across the world. And the Navy is looking to buy 38 V-22s to conduct fleet replenishment missions around the world, ferrying everything from engines to potatoes from warehouses on land to ships at sea.

So, while it would be useful for the Navy to get some smaller, unmanned aircraft to move the smaller packages between ships — especially since V-22 exhaust is so hot and fast-moving that it breaks down ship decks faster than other aircraft — there may not be enough money to go around. But the V-247 might represent a valuable asset for the Marines and Navy. And many of the sea services' missions for the tilt-rotor would be valuable for the Army as well.

More graphic depictions of the proposed aircraft are available below.

(Bell Helicopters Textron)

(Bell Helicopters Textron)

(Bell Helicopters Textron)

(Bell Helicopters Textron)