Fort Worth-based Bell Textron Inc. has won a development contract potentially worth billions of dollars for the US Army’s next generation of helicopters to replace its fleet of Black Hawks.
Textron on Monday announced pricing for what’s called the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA, program. The award is based on Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor which was developed and tested under the program which 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 like a helicopter when taking off or landing, but in the air it can reconfigure itself to fly faster than traditional helicopters.
Competition among manufacturers to develop a next-generation aircraft came as the military considered phasing out aging UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which are built by Sikorsky.
Reuters reported that military officials said the original price was $232 million, but initial production helicopters could be worth $7.1 billion. Ultimately, the contract is potentially worth around $70 billion over the years, the military told reporters Monday night.
The military says Bell’s V-280 Valor reached speeds of over 340 mph, Reuters reported. Bell says the plane can take off in an instant with “exceptional range capability”, providing more flexibility for urgent military action or humanitarian missions. The company claims to have 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. Textron shares jumped nearly 12% in after-hours trading, hitting $78, the highest since January.
“We are honored that the U.S. military has selected the Bell V-280 Valor as its next-generation assault aircraft,” Textron president and CEO Scott C. Donnelly said in a statement. “We intend to honor that trust by building a truly remarkable and transformational weapon system to meet the demands of the Army’s mission. We are excited to play an important role in the future of Army Aviation.
Bell demonstrated its V-280 Valor in January 2020 at its Flight Research Center in Arlington, to an audience that included Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and other officials. The aircraft flew over the Fort Worth Alliance Air Show in 2019.
“There’s nothing quite like seeing this,” U.S. Representative Kay Granger said at the time, after seeing the demonstration. She is the leading member of the House Appropriations Committee.
The V-280 has progressed through design, manufacturing and more than three years of rigorous flight testing, Bell Textron said. The tests validated the aircraft’s “technical and operational advantages for the long-range assault mission,” the company said.
The UH-60 Black Hawk has been the Army’s workhorse for over 40 years, a “simple, rugged and reliable utility helicopter system” that entered service in 1979 and has been used in all operations army majors, including Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Somalia. and Afghanistan. The current army fleet includes more than 2,000 helicopters.
The next generation of workhorse will incorporate technology, efficiency and handling that could not have been imagined 43 years ago.
“This is an exciting time for the U.S. Army, Bell, and Team Valor as we modernize Army aviation capabilities for decades to come,” said Mitch Snyder, Bell President and CEO. “Bell has a long history of supporting Army aviation, and we’re ready to equip soldiers with the speed and range they need to compete and win using the high-performance long-range assault weapon system. the most mature, reliable and affordable in the world.”
Sen. Ted Cruz hailed the Army’s decision, saying in a statement that it recognizes Bell Textron’s “quality craftsmanship and advanced 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 helicopters to dominate our enemies on the battlefield,” he wrote.
Bell said the initial contract refines “weapons 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 business 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 aircraft, as well as other vehicles and products.
This story was originally published December 5, 2022 6:44 p.m.