Bell unveiled a new rotorcraft Wednesday, the Bell 360 Invictus, that it hopes will win a lucrative Army contract next decade. The helicopter is a clean sheet design and features several unique technologies.
Most notably, it has wings.
“I wouldn’t call it a common configuration,” said Frank Lazzara, director, Advanced Vertical Lift Systems, Sales & Strategy for the Fort Worth-based aerospace company.
“The holy grail of helicopter flying has always been speed and range,” he added. “Certainly, wing configurations have been tried before. There have been other combinations of technologies to get to speed and range. I would comfortably say that the configuration that the team has put together here is unique in that effort.”
The 360 is Bell’s entry for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program. If it wins the competition, that would mean production of upwards of 500 aircraft and hundreds of millions of dollars for Bell, a subsidiary of Textron Inc
Bell is one of five chasing the award, along with other aerospace stalwarts like Boeing and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky. Teams of Karem Aircraft-Northrop Grumman-Raytheon and AVX-L3 are also in the competition.
The Army will now work on narrowing down that list of five to two, which Lazzara projects will happen by March or sooner. Then, the two competing teams will build prototypes of their aircraft and have two years to get to first flight.
“It’s a very aggressive timeline,” Lazzara said. “They want a first unit equipped, or a capability in their formations by 2028.”
Bell says the 360 is the low-risk option for the Army, meaning it reuses and relies on technology Bell uses on other aircraft.
The 360 is smaller than the 525 Relentless to meet Army requirements, but shares a lot in common with the commercial helicopter. For example, the 525’s rotor head is the foundation of the 360’s.
Bell is also working on the V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor aircraft going up against the SB>1 Defiant made by Sikorsky and Boeing. Bell leadership has previously said the V-280 could be a $100 billion program throughout its life.