Fort Worth-based Bell Textron Inc. has been awarded a development contract potentially worth billions of dollars for the US Army’s next generation of helicopter to replace its fleet of Black Hawks.
Textron announced the award Monday for what’s called the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA program. The award is based on Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor that was developed and tested as part of the program that began in 2013.
The Army’s choice of Bell Textron for the massive contract beat out Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The V-280 Valor acts as a helicopter when taking off or landing, but in the air can reconfigure itself to fly faster than traditional helicopters.
The competition among manufacturers to develop a next-generation aircraft came as the Army plans to retire the aging UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which are built by Sikorsky.
Reuters reported that Army officials said the initial award was for $232 million, but initial production of helicopters could be worth $7.1 billion. Ultimately, the contract is potentially worth around $70 billion over the years, the Army told reporters on Monday evening.
The Army says Bell’s V-280 Valor has reached speeds of more than 340 mph, Reuters reported. Bell says the aircraft can take off in a moment’s notice with “exceptional range capability,” providing more flexibility for urgent military action or humanitarian missions. The company says it leveraged more than 600,000 hours of tiltrotor experience to produce the V-280 Valor.
Bell Textron employs more than 4,000 people in North Texas. Textron’s shares jumped nearly 12% in after-hours trading, reaching $78, the highest since January.
“We are honored that the US Army has selected the Bell V-280 Valor as its next-generation assault aircraft,” said Scott C. Donnelly, Textron’s chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement. “We intend to honor that trust by building a truly remarkable and transformational weapon system to meet the Army’s mission requirements. We are excited to play an important role in the future of Army Aviation.”
Bell gave a demonstration of its V-280 Valor in January 2020 at its flight research center in Arlington, to an audience that included Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and other officials. The aircraft flew over the Fort Worth Alliance Air Show in 2019.
“There’s nothing like seeing this,” said US Rep. Kay Granger at the time, after seeing the demonstration. She is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
The V-280 progressed through design, manufacturing and more than three years of rigorous flight testing, Bell Textron said. The testing validated the “technical and operational advantages of the aircraft for the long-range assault mission,” the company said.
The UH-60 Black Hawk has been the Army’s workhorse for more than 40 years, a “simple, robust and reliable utility helicopter system” that entered service in 1979 and has seen action in every major Army operation including Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. The Army’s current fleet includes more than 2,000 of the helicopters.
The next generation of workhorse will incorporate technology, efficiencies and maneuverability that couldn’t have been imagined 43 years ago.
“This is an exciting time for the US Army, Bell, and Team Valor as we modernize the Army’s aviation capabilities for decades to come,” said Mitch Snyder, president and CEO of Bell. “Bell has a long history supporting Army Aviation and we are ready to equip Soldiers with the speed and range they need to compete and win using the most mature, reliable, and affordable high-performance long-range assault weapon system in the world.”
Sen. Ted Cruz praised the Army’s decision, saying in a statement that it recognizes Bell Textron’s “quality craftsmanship and state-of-the-art technology production.”
“No state has given more to protect our country than Texas, and I’m proud that Texans will build the next generation of helicopter to dominate our enemies on the field of battle,” he wrote.
Bell said the initial contract refines the “weapon system design, sustainment, digital enterprise, manufacturing, systems integration, flight-testing, and airworthiness qualification.”
Bell was founded by Lawrence Dale Bell in 1935, as Bell Aircraft Corp. in Buffalo, NY He moved the company to Fort Worth in 1951.
Today, Bell is a wholly owned subsidiary of Textron Inc., a multi-industry company that also includes Cessna and Beechcraft airplanes, as well as other vehicles and products.
This story was originally published December 5, 2022 6:44 PM.