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Bell Textron's HSVTOL, a new concept of military vertical takeoff aircraft

One of the challenges in the development of new aircraft is to have increasingly faster vertical takeoff and landing aerial systems.

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HSVTOL aircraft projects since the 1960s

Projects to build this type of aircraft began as early as the 1960s, with several projects by Bell Helicopters (the manufacturer of the famous UH-1 Huey helicopter) such as the X-14, the X-22, the -3, the XV-15, the Bell 533 and the Eagle Eye TR911X, aircraft that did not go beyond the experimental phase and at most only prototypes were built.

One of the Bell X-22 prototypes on a flight in 1966 (Photo: U.S. Army).

Bell Textron's new HSVTOL concept

On August 2, 2021, Bell Textron announced a new HSVTOL concept, i.e. high-speed vertical take-off and landing, using a new propulsion system made in collaboration with Pratt & Whitney. In that first announcement, Bell Textron showed this first image of what this new generation of aircraft could be:

What we see, apparently, are two manned aircraft (left and center) and one unmanned (right). Its appearance corresponds to that of a convertiplane, a technology that Bell successfully developed together with Boeing giving rise to the V-22 Osprey, whose first flight took place in 1989 and which is today operational in the US and Japanese Armed Forces. However, there is an important difference between these HSVTOL aircraft and current convertiplanes. In March 2023, Bell Textron showed that difference in this video:

As we can see, these new convertiplanes would take off with small rotors like the V-22, but once in flight they would fold the rotor blades and fly powered by turbofan reactors.

In 2021, Bell indicated that it aspires for this type of aircraft to reach speeds of 400 knots (740 km/h), compared to the Osprey's 565 km/h. In recent years, Bell Textron has been publishing new conceptual images of these aircraft, which you can see next to these lines.

Bell's forecasts are that the gross weight of these new HSVTOL aircraft will range between 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg) and more than 100,000 pounds (45,359 kg). To give us an idea, an MV-22 Osprey weighs about 15,000 kg, so the largest versions of the HSVTOL aircraft could be considerable in size, even larger than that of a C-130 Hercules (whose empty weight is 34,400 kg).

The great advantage of this technology is that unmanned versions (UAV) could operate from very small bases, even offshore platforms, for deployment on land in all types of missions: from logistical flights to rescue operations, through attack missions and close support. This Bell Textron video shows some of those capabilities:

In November 2023, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the United States, created during the Cold War and which has promoted all types of innovations in the field of defense technology, selected Bell Textron for Phase 1A of its SPRINT program, which aims to design, build and fly a X-Plane, an experimental aircraft to demonstrate enabling technologies and integrated concepts necessary for a transformational combination of aircraft speed and runway independence for the next generation of air mobility platforms."

Bell Textron has already begun testing its HSVTOL technology for the SPRINT program. Today this company announced the first successful demonstration of its HSVTOL engine, in a test carried out at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Bell has published this video of that test:

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