The Association of the United States Army held its annual conference and exposition in the nation’s capital last week. The event was huge and heavily attended, with hundreds of suppliers participating. But it wasn’t hard to figure out who had the biggest exhibit. It was Textron, owner of Bell Helicopter, which brought a full-scale model of a tiltrotor combat aircraft to the event.
Textron isn’t ranked among the Pentagon’s top contractors, but it sees an opportunity in the near future to reach a breakthrough deal with the Army comparable to when it sold thousands of UH-1 “Hueys” during the Vietnam War. The Army is seeking to replace all of its current rotorcraft with next-generation aircraft under a joint program called Future Vertical Lift, and Textron thinks its unique tiltrotor technology is what the Army needs.
So Bell/Textron is spending lavishly on telling the tiltrotor story. Not just at conferences, but by building an eye-popping marketing and simulation facility a stone’s throw from the Pentagon. The facility, which takes up an entire floor in a high-rise office building, enables Pentagon executives, military officers, and congressional aides to see how tiltrotor technology could transform the way Army Aviation operates.
Bell/Textron built the world’s first production tiltrotor, the V-22 Osprey, for the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force special operators. After a bumpy start, the program produced the most versatile rotorcraft in the joint fleet due to its ability to take off and land vertically like a helicopter, but then pivot its engines in flight to deliver the range, speed and payload of a fixed-wing aircraft.
Four decades after Bell/Textron first proved that was possible, the Army is the only military service within the defense department that has not embraced tiltrotors. It backed out of the V-22 program in 1988, and since then it has watched the Marines use Osprey to accomplish missions that previously would have been impossible. The legacy Sea Knight helicopters that Osprey replaced could barely reach every part of Iraq’s Anbar Province; Ospreys located at the same base can reach all of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, plus large portions of Iran, Jordan and Turkey. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Forbes magazine website.