DH - Defence Helicopter

Bell fired up for FARA with 360 Invictus

2nd October 2019 - 10:30 GMT | by Tim Martin in London

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Manufacturer Bell has unveiled its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Competitive Prototype [FARA CP] contender – the 360 Invictus – distinguished by a lift-sharing fixed-wing, tandem cockpit, single-engine and integrated with new rotor technology for high-speed flight.

Armed capabilities of the light attack aircraft are, according to design specifications, set to include a 20mm cannon and a munitions launcher able to ‘integrate air-launched effects and future weapons’ and primed for multi-domain operations.

Technologies from Bell’s in-development 525 Relentless super-medium feature heavily, including fly-by-wire flight controls, while General Electric’s ITEP T901 powerplant will also be used.

Under a partnership agreement, Collins Aerospace will serve as mission systems integrator and deliver avionics hardware and software for the 360 Invictus, according to a company statement.

‘The lift sharing wing offloads [lift capacity] of the rotor by 50% when you get up to 180kts, it effectively allows the fully articulated rotor system to be a propulsor,’ Keith Flail, VP for advanced tiltrotor systems at Bell, told Shephard.

A horizontal stabiliser at the rear of the helicopter has been added to the design ‘to trim it for the lowest drag possible profile,’ he explained.

As one of five initial design review FARA industry contractors, Bell was awarded $790 million by the US Army in April 2019 under an Other Transaction Authority agreement, having met key requirements of proposing an aircraft design, capable of flying at a minimum cruise airspeed of 180kt, maximum 12m (40ft) rotor disc criteria and a maximum gross weight of 6,350kg (14,000lb).

‘The 525 has exceeded 200kts [during flight testing] so we have high confidence in exceeding the army’s 180kt requirement,’ Flail said, while also confirming that the 360 Invictus meets a combat radius requirement of 135nm.

A next FARA downselect decision, scheduled for March 2020, will see the field of five competitors reduced to two. These five include Boeing, Bell, Lockheed Martin's Sikorsky, Karem and L3 with partner AVX. 

Following the downselect those remaining will be placed on contract for a final design and build phase. Associated flight testing on the programme is due to take place throughout 2023, according to the US Army.

Ahead of the March decision, Bell has been focused on risk reduction of ‘key technologies’ and will continue ‘design cycle’ activities to advance the 360 Invictus programme.

‘We've also spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel, so we are very confident in our performance numbers for the aircraft in terms of speed, drag and such,’ Flail said.

‘Everything that we're doing in terms of the staffing on the programme, the level of engineering, the long lead items that we're looking at, resources, we are absolutely all in [on this] with the expectation that we will be one of the two companies that are downselected.’

As a result of the 360 Invictus reveal, out of the five competitors it is only Boeing that is left to disclose its proposal for the competition.

Shephard understands, however, that the company has no immediate plans to do so.

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