Bell Helicopter has launched its V-247 Vigilant tiltrotor unmanned aerial system (UAS) concept which the manufacturer has designed to satisfy the capabilities outlined in the US Marine Corps’ (USMC) 2016-2026 aviation plan for a larger and armed shipborne UAS platform.
Officially unveiled at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on September 22, Bell vice president for advanced tiltrotor systems Vince Tobin said the V-247 had been designed using its V-22 and, more recently, its V-280 Valor tiltrotor experience coupled with its marinised UH-1Y/AH-1Z programs as a sea-based Group 5 UAS to execute electronic warfare, ISR, escort, C4 (command, control, communications, and computers) and precision strike missions.
“Leveraging lessons learned from our extensive history and experience with tiltrotors, we have found the best available solution to fulfil the Marine Corps’ need for a Group 5 UAS,” said Tobin.
“The Bell V-247 Vigilant will give military customers the capabilities needed to reduce the complexity of deployment, increase speed of employment, reduce mission times and increase response time – all critical elements to completing missions to save lives and protect our freedom.”
The Group 5 Vigilant puts it on the same footing as the MQ-9 Reaper, RQ-4 Global Hawk, and MQ-4C Triton. The USMC already operates the smaller Group 1 Textron Systems RQ-7 Shadow and the Group 3 Boeing Insitu RQ-21A Blackjack UAS.
Named the V-247 because of its intended operation as a pair to provide 24/7 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), the Vigilant is able to take-off and hover like a helicopter with the range and speed of a fixed-wing aircraft.
Bell says the Vigilant will cruise at 250kt with a top speed of around 300kt and climb to a maximum altitude of 25,000ft. It will have a combat radius of 450nm (833km), a total range of 1,400nm (2,593km) and have 17 hours of internal fuel, bolstered by an air-to-air refuelling capability.
With a wing span of about 20m, the V-247’s blades fold with its wing swivelling along its 11m fuselage to give it the same footprint as the UH-1Y Venom, allowing it fit inside a DDG (guided missile destroyer) hangar space or as a pair on board a C-17.
The single engine, v-tailed V-247 will have a 13,100kg (29,000lb) maximum gross weight. Bell is yet to match the Vigilant’s design with a power plant. However, the manufacturer is looking to install a 5,000-6,000shp (3,670-4,410kW) class turbine engine.
Its modular payload system designed to carry a combination of fuel, armament and sensors, up to 13,000lb (5,897kg), including high definition sensors, fuel, sonar buoys, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) modules, a 360-degree surface radar module, the MK-50 torpedo or AGM-114 Hellfire and JAGM missiles.
The USMC’s aviation plan timeline calls for a technology demonstrator in 2018 with initial operational capability in 2026 to meet emerging needs for a runway-independent Group 4 and 5 UAS while requiring less space to store and transport to provide persistent support to ground forces.
Bell says if the V-247 Vigilant is approved, it could be available for production as early as 2023.