Fort Worth-based Bell Textron Inc. The US military has been awarded a potentially multibillion-dollar development contract for a new generation of helicopters to replace its fleet of Black Hawks.
Textron announced the award on Monday, called the Future Long Range Attack Aircraft, or FLRAA, program. The award is based on Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor, which was developed and tested as part of a program that began in 2013.
The Army’s choice of Bell Textron for the major contract beat out Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The V-280 Valor acts as a helicopter when taking off or landing, but can reconfigure itself in the air to fly faster than traditional helicopters.
The competition among manufacturers to develop a new generation of aircraft comes as the Army plans to retire its aging UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters built by Sikorsky.
Reuters reported that military officials said the initial award was $232 million, but initial production of the helicopters could cost $7.1 billion. The potential value of the resulting contract is about $70 billion over the years, the military told reporters Monday evening.
The military said Bell’s V-280 Valor reached a top speed of more than 340 miles per hour, Reuters reported. Bell says the aircraft can take off at a moment’s notice with “exceptional accommodation capability,” providing greater flexibility for emergency military operations or humanitarian missions. The company says it used 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. Shares of Textron rose nearly 12% to $78 in after-hours trading, the highest since January.
“We are honored that the US Army has selected the Bell V-280 Valor as its next-generation attack aircraft,” said Textron Chairman and CEO Scott C. Donnelly. “We intend to live up to that trust by building a truly remarkable and transformative weapon system that meets the Army’s mission requirements. We are excited to play an important role in the future of Army Aviation.”
Bell gave a demonstration of the V-280 Valor to an audience that included Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and other officials at the flight research center in Arlington in January 2020. The aircraft flew over the 2019 Fort Worth Alliance Air Show.
After seeing the demonstration, US Representative Kay Granger at the time said, “There’s nothing like seeing it.” He is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Bell Textron said the V-280 advanced through design, production and more than three years of rigorous flight testing. The test confirmed the “technical and operational advantages of the aircraft for a long-range attack mission,” the company said.
The UH-60 Black Hawk entered service in 1979 and has been the Army’s workhorse for more than 40 years, a “simple, rugged and reliable utility helicopter system” that has seen action in every Army operation, including Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Somalia. and Afghanistan. The army’s current fleet includes more than 2,000 helicopters.
The next-generation workforce will incorporate technology, efficiency and maneuverability that were unimaginable 43 years ago.
“This is an exciting time for the U.S. Army, Bell and Team Valor as we continue to modernize the Army’s aviation capabilities for decades,” said Bell President and CEO Mitch Snyder. “Bell has a long history of supporting Army Aviation, and we are committed to equipping Soldiers with the speed and range they need to compete and win using the world’s most mature, reliable and affordable high-performance long-range attack weapon system.”
Sen. Ted Cruz praised the Army’s decision, saying it recognizes Bell Textron’s “quality craftsmanship and state-of-the-art manufacturing technology.”
“No state has given more to protect our country than Texas, and I’m proud that Texans will build the next generation of helicopters to give our enemies the edge on the battlefield,” he said.
Bell said the original contract advanced “weapon system design, maintenance, digital enterprise, manufacturing, system integration, flight test and airworthiness qualification.”
Bell was founded in 1935 by Lawrence Dale Bell as Bell Aircraft Corp. in Buffalo, NY. He moved the company to Fort Worth in 1951.
Today, Bell is also a wholly owned subsidiary of Textron Inc., a diversified company that also includes Cessna and Beechcraft aircraft, as well as other vehicles and products.
This story was originally published December 5, 2022 at 6:44 p.m.