Program officials at Bell, a contender in the Army's Future Vertical Lift program, will soon install a sophisticated sensor package on the V-280 Valor designed to ensure pilots know about enemy activity long before it's close enough to threaten the aircraft.
The Pilotage Distributed Aperture Sensor system, made by Lockheed Martin, is built to "provide 360-degree awareness around your aircraft via sensors," retired Army Maj. Gen. Jeff Schloesser, executive vice president for strategic pursuits at Bell, formerly known as Bell Helicopter, told Military.com.
The company recently demonstrated the V-280 multi-role technology demonstrator platform's performance capabilities. The June 18 public event came six months after the V-280's first test flight.
The V-280 tiltrotor -- produced by Textron Inc. and Bell -- is one of two demonstrator aircraft the service selected in 2014 to prove out new capabilities for Future Vertical Lift, an Army-led, joint program to create futuristic helicopters designed to far exceed the performance of existing aircraft such as the UH-60 Black Hawk.
Sikorsky, part of Lockheed Martin Corp., and Boeing Co. built the SB>1 Defiant as the other technology demonstrator, but so far the Defiant has not conducted its first test flight.
"Long before Lockheed Martin bought Sikorsky, we had partnered with Lockheed Martin" on the Pilotage Distributed Aperture Sensor system, or PDAS, Schloesser said.
"It's a really unique capability and really exciting," he added. "If you've got a new car, you've probably got a TV camera in the back so when you back up you don't back into something.
"Think about if you could do that in an aircraft, so you can essentially see ... in all directions," Schloesser said. "Even as you are piloting up front, technically what you've got is a bulkhead behind you, but actually you are seeing through it because the system knows you are looking to the rear and then is using the backend sensor to tell you that's what is back there."
Lockheed's PDAS is similar to the Distributed Aperture System, or DAS -- made by Raytheon -- that is in use on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, said Paul Sudlow, a spokesman for Communications, Missiles and Fire Control, for Lockheed Martin. The PDAS system will also be incorporated into Sikorsky's SB>1 Defiant demonstrator, he added.
The PDAS is equipped with a sophisticated head-tracked helmet-mounted display that feeds pilots video from the 360-degree sensor devices, Sudlow said. Lockheed has demonstrated compatibility with the Army's current common helmet-mounted display system and other emerging helmet tech, he said.
The PDAS system will provide far more to pilots than just being able to view video from all around their aircraft, Schloesser said.
"Think about it as knowing 360. In other words, now to my right rear at five o'clock at 20 miles, there is a radar system that's emanating a pulse and to my left side ... there is a radio pulse coming from there that might be either hostile or whatever -- it's a continual mapping of the battlefield," he said.
"Every aircraft is going to need to be a sensor; every one of them is going to be able to be almost networked to provide a network of sensors out on the battlefield so you have a much better understanding of the situation on the ground," Schloesser said.
Over the next several months, Bell will finalize its V-280 Valor, making sure it can meet its performance goals, he said.
The Valor has demonstrated that it can fly at 195 knots, but it will soon be able to reach a max speed of 280 knots, Schloesser said.
The V-280 is designed to fly an infantry squad on a 200-mile air assault mission and return to base without the need to refuel.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.