Could This Helicopter-Jet Hybrid Replace the V-22 Osprey?

It can achieve "jet-like cruise speeds over 400 knots" compared to the V-22's 270 knots.

bell hsvtol
  • Fort Worth, Texas-based aviation company Bell Textron just released concept images for new High-Speed Vertical Takeoff and Landing (HSVTOL) aircraft.
  • The aircraft takes off and lands with a pair of helicopter rotors, but switches to jet power midflight.
  • Funding for the HSVTOL project comes from an Air Force contract. It's likely that the service wants to use the futuristic aircraft to replace its fleet of Osprey tiltrotors.

    Bell Textron—a Fort Worth, Texas-based aerospace manufacturer—released concept art last week for a novel High-Speed Vertical Takeoff and Landing (HSVTOL) aircraft. The vehicle is noteworthy because it takes off and lands like a typical helicopter, but flies like a fixed-wing aircraft. The concept art and development plans are the result of an Air Force study seeking to create a plane that could replace the service's V-22 Ospreys.

    The image at the top of this story (provided by Bell) shows three aircraft in formation midflight. A hybrid propulsion system that includes both propellers and a turbine jet engine appear to power the aircraft. They take off with propellers pointing upward, generating vertical lift, and allowing the plane to skip the regular rolling runway takeoff process.

    Once in the air, the propellers will turn 90 degrees forward, generating forward motion. The aircraft increases speed, and then the internal turbofan engine takes over, generating even more forward motion. From there, the propellers come to a dead stop, and then fold backwards, flush against the nacelles, to decrease drag. The concept dates back to the 1960s, with the Bell 627 aircraft, according to the blog website Hush-Kit.

    Bell says that the HSVTOL concept equates to "low downwash over capability," which is the downward force generated by propellers when facing upward. All propeller-based vertical takeoff and landing aircraft have this issue, particularly the V-22 Osprey. Check out the video below to see what we mean:

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    Design-wise, HSVTOL promises to leap ahead of both helicopters and the Osprey tiltrotor. The aircraft can achieve "jet-like cruise speeds over 400 knots," according to Bell, which is a real improvement from the UH-60 Blackhawk's 150 knots and V-22's 270 knots. The company says the aircraft concept is scalable—from an aircraft weighing "over 100,000" gross pounds, to as little as 4,000 pounds. For context, a gross weight of 100,000 pounds is twice the size of an CH-47 Chinook helicopter, which can carry up to 13 tons (or 55 troops).

    The concept art shows three different configurations for the same basic aircraft shape. The aircraft on the top left has a full cockpit and side door for entry. It features a twin-tail design, but with the tail fins separated and a cargo ramp between them. This would be the design most likely to replace the V-22 Osprey.

    exercise talisman sabre 2021 in townsville
    The large HSVTOL concept aircraft has a rear ramp like the V-22 Osprey to rapidly offload troops, vehicles, and supplies. Here is an MV-22 during the ongoing Talisman Sabre exercise in Australia.
    Ian HitchcockGetty Images

    The middle aircraft also features a door in the fuselage and cockpit class, indicating it is a crewed aircraft. It also has shark nose art typically given to armed aircraft, suggesting it might carry air-to-air or air-to-ground weapons internally. An electro-optical turret equipped with day and night vision cameras, and likely a laser designator, is visible under the cockpit. It would be useful for tracking and targeting ground targets.

    The plane on the right is the smallest of them all. This aircraft lacks both a cockpit and door, indicating that it's a remotely operated drone. The white rectangle outline on top of the fuselage is probably a modular, removable payload bay that could carry a number of equipment types, such as a jammer, anti-submarine payload, or any number of useful cargoes.

    The concepts appear to be the result of an Air Force contract meant to study High-Speed Vertical Takeoff and Landing aircraft. In May, FlightGlobal discussed the concept, and reported that Bell had discussed using a "convertible engine" that could operate in both turbofan or turboshaft modes. In turbofan mode, the engine would suck in air and blow thrust out the rear like a typical jet engine, while in turboshaft mode, it would drive a pair of propellers. The aircraft could even lock one out of three propellers in place on each wing, increasing the surface area of the main wing to create even more lift.

    Bell mentions the use of digital engineering techniques, in which aircraft are prototyped as digital software models before the company actually builds them. The Air Force claims that digital engineering allowed it to develop and fly its new Next-Generation Air Dominance fighter in just one year. Bell claims it is prepared for "rapid development of HSVTOL," so we might see an aircraft like this sooner rather than later.

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