Tilt-rotor aircraft technology, similar to technology incorporated in the design of the U.S. Marine Corps V-22 Osprey, is not going away despite its reputation as a dangerous aircraft. In fact, Scout Warrior reports that the U.S. Army is working with Bell Helicopter and the team from Sikorsky Aircraft and The Boeing Company to create a new fleet of aircraft that will include a tilt-rotor technology design.
As development and production continues, the Army-led effort known as the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator has finished two high-tech, future oriented demonstrator helicopters. The demonstrators, slated for ground testing later this year, anticipate taking their first flight next year. Designs for the new aircraft fleet, or the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, will allow the aircraft to travel much faster at 230 knots and have a longer combat radius of 434 kilometers. New designs and technology will also allow the next-generation aircraft to operate in “high-hot” conditions of 6,000 feet and 95 degrees Fahrenheit – both of which create difficult operating environments for helicopters. Scout Warrior reports that advanced safeguards include future-oriented sensors, weapons and guidance technologies, and minimal rotor downwash.
Designed to operate as both an airplane and a helicopter, the tilt-rotor technology included in the Osprey’s design is a compromise that does not work, as reported previously in The Jere Beasley Report (December 2016). Its tragically flawed designed has claimed 37 service members’ lives as a result of multiple issues over the course of its lifespan, reports Righting Injustice. During one deadly accident in April 2000, an Osprey plummeted to the ground while attempting to land at Arizona’s Marana Northwest Regional Airport.
The phenomenon known as the vortex ring state (VRS) was responsible for the deaths of all 19 Marines on board at the time of the tragic incident. Quadcopter101 explains that VRS occurs when a rotorcraft descends vertically too quickly. The propeller blades descend into the turbulent downwash beneath the aircraft. Although VRS is a common problem for all rotorcraft, the Osprey’s unique design can intensify the effect of the VRS by producing a sudden hard roll if only one of the lateral rotors is affected.
BreakingDefense explains that the Osprey’s rotors are about five feet shorter than what is ideal for its missions. The blades’ shorter-than-optimal length is necessary in order for the aircraft to fit on the deck of an amphibious assault ship. Further, the blades are twisted more than a helicopter’s, which allows them to grab the air better when flying in airplane mode. The short, highly twisted blades create downwash that can increase the risk of VRS. The significant downwash during brownout landings where dust and dirt swathe the cockpit makes it nearly impossible to land the craft safely – something that is unavoidable in modern combat locations.
The Bell-Boeing team, which currently makes the V-22 Osprey, recently received $138 million in additional funding for supplementary work for V-22 aircraft that will be sold to Japan. The team also received additional funding to complete repairs for the U.S. Navy’s version of the Osprey.
While the Bell-Boeing team benefits from the supplemental contract funding, which UPI reports could total $545 million if all options are exercised, for the existing tilt-rotor aircraft, the industry giants all claim their designs are substantially advancing tilt-rotor technology. Bell’s V-280 Valor is a third generation tilt-rotor aircraft with straight wings, which Bell claims reduces the complexity of maneuverability. The Valor will include additional flapping in the rotor system along with individual controls making it easier for the aircraft to operate and move at low-speed.
The Sikorsky-Boeing duo’s Defiant uses coaxial technology or large counter-rotating rotor blades and some thrusting technology at the back. Details remain limited as the designs continue to unfold, yet critics question whether the design changes, evolving technology and promises for better safeguards will go far enough and better protect the pilots and crews than the first generation of the hybrid technology.
If you need more information about aviation product liability contact Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury & Product’s Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com. Mike handles aviation litigation for the firm.
Sources: Scout Warrior, UPI, and cases handled by Beasley Allen
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