Integrated Product Team to Design/Build/Fly Full Scale
Tiltrotor UAV in One Year
Ya gotta admire the
folks who take on the BIG challenges... Following what Bell
characterizes as the "remarkable success" of their 7/8 scale Bell
Eagle Eye Tiltrotor UAV prototype (shown below, right), Bell
CEO Mike Redenbaugh has announced a major new effort to design,
build and fly a new full scale Bell Eagle Eye by November 1, 2004.
Speaking to a handpicked team of about 40 aerospace engineers and
manufacturing and production experts, Mr. Redenbaugh said, "there
is a strong worldwide interest in the Bell Eagle Eye and we owe it
to our customers to develop this full scale prototype to
demonstrate the full capacity of this great tiltrotor product."
Bell's Director of UAV
Programs Robert Dompka explained that while the one-year to flight
status goal is a challenge, "Bell has a great history of tackling
ambitious projects with teams of dedicated employees; such as the
great effort to produce the first Cobra attack helicopter back in
the mid-1960s, and more recently the development of the Bell 407
commercial helicopter in less than one year."
The Bell Eagle Eye tiltrotor Tactical VTOL unmanned aerial
vehicle (UAV) is the greatest leap in UAV technology in the past
half century. Traditionally UAVs have been small fixed wing
aircraft requiring either a runway or netting for retrieval.
Normally runways are unavailable in the field and netting has
proven to be a very hazardous form of UAV retrieval aboard ship
often resulting in serious damage to or destruction of the aircraft
and very expensive.
Helicopters have the advantage of being able to takeoff and land
anywhere. However, helicopter UAVs do not have the speed and range
of fixed-wing UAV aircraft. Further, small short coupled tail rotor
aircraft may not be stable when going through the burble
experienced with landing on Navy Surface Combatants. The Bell Eagle
Eye is the perfect solution. With its rotors in the vertical
position, the Bell Eagle Eye can takeoff, hover and land like a
traditional rotary wing aircraft. By tilting its rotors to the
horizontal position the Bell Eagle Eye can fly with the high speed
and range of a turbo-prop fixed wing airplane. Also, the counter
rotating design provides improved stability through the burble.
The Bell Eagle Eye
Tactical VTOL UAV Demonstrator flew under NAVAIR contract
N00019-98-C-0051, VTOL UAV Demonstration Program at Yuma Proving
Ground, Ariz. The contract required 50 hours of land based flight
tests to evaluate the performance and maturity of the aircraft and
control system. The Eagle Eye Demonstrator aircraft was the first
to finish the 50-hour Land Based Flight Test Task.
In less than 90 days after its first flight on March 6, 1998,
the single Eagle Eye Demonstrator flew 55.5 hours. It made 43
landings, 42 of which were within 15 minutes of the intended
take-off time and it completed tests that have expanded the
aircraft's envelope and proven its advertised performance and
technology maturity claims. During the tests, the envelope was
expanded to over 14,600 feet and more than 200 knots True Air Speed
(TAS) in level cruise flight; while carrying 210 pounds of payload
plus mission fuel, exceeding the objectives substantially.
Performance in the "best endurance mission was more than 1.7 hours
on station. And in the "best range" mission, the aircraft flew more
than 315 nautical miles. Real time target imagery was provided
during the flights.
Both the aircraft and ground control station performed
flawlessly, getting up and going to work for every scheduled flight
in a regimented 2-hour range test period. Maintenance requirements
(other than pre-flight checks) were almost nonexistent.
The Eagle Eye Demonstrator executed all applicable demonstration
objectives, and expanded the aircraft's flight envelope
substantially. Capabilities demonstrated included:
- Routine VTOL take-off and landings to a 24' helicopter landing
- A launch and recovery accuracy better than the required
- Automated hover and landing in winds gusting to 32 knots
- Stable hover out of ground effect at 1100 MSL in 95
temperatures while carrying 210 pounds of payload and 350 pounds of
- Recovery at take-off gross weight
- The ability to fly (cruise) at speeds between 0 and 150 knots.
(202 knots TAS cruise achieved with less than 90% power)
- Cruise at 14,600' with a 200 pound payload (aircraft design
limit >20,000 ft)
PMA-263 assessed the contractor's ability to provide the
required performance data. Bell Helicopter's Eagle Eye Demonstrator
was rated at 95%. The next best was 60%. The best news seems to be
that providing this capability to the military services is a
relatively low cost, low risk process since most of the components
are off-the-shelf man-rated helicopter parts.
Officials for Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS) announced in
February, 2003, that the Bell Eagle Eye was selected for the
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VUAV) portion of the U.S. Coast Guard's
Integrated Deepwater System contract. The Coast Guard's Integrated
Deepwater System is a critical multi-year program to modernize and
replace aging ships and aircraft, and improve command and control
and logistics systems. Bell Helicopter is a subcontractor to
Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems, who
is a major contractor to ICGS. Under this award, Bell Helicopter is
scheduled to begin delivering the Bell Eagle Eye aircraft with a
First Unit Equipped (FUE) date of 2006. The total anticipated
contract is valued at over $1 billion over the life of the
Bell, a leader in Systems Integration developed the
state-of-the-art, fully integrated redundant flight control system
which boasts of highly automated flight control and built-in test
software, as well as fully integrated surface mount circuitry.
Using tiltrotor technology, the Bell Eagle Eye System also adds
the dimension of speed flexibility to the usual UAV performance
parameters. With its rotors tilted forward it can cruise at speeds
over 200 knots reducing time to get to an operational area, find
moving targets 80-110 nautical miles away in minutes and be easily
in-flight re-tasked for another mission. Conversely, it can loiter
over a target 100 nm away for four hours. In the hover mode the
Bell Eagle Eye can operate from confined spaces, launch and recover
automatically from small ships.
The Bell Eagle Eye offers the Coast Guard and other sea service
users numerous performance capabilities simply not available in
Bell Eagle Eye
5.5 hrs. with 200 lb. payload