Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and Boeing Vertol Monday rolled out their prototype of the V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft that takes off like a helicopter and then flies at speeds in excess of 300 mph.
House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, and other dignitaries watched as the prototype was towed from a hangar at Bell's flight research center. The first ceremonial flight is not scheduled until mid-August."This has to be the future of aviation for any space 400 miles or less and the best, the most time and dollar efficient way to travel that could ever be conceived," said Wright, whose district includes the Bell plant.
Developed from Bell's XV-15 technology, the V-22 has wide-ranging military and commercial uses, company officials said.
The new plane, the first of six prototypes to be built, is the product of a joint venture between Bell and Boeing Vertol Co. in Philadelphia under a $1.7 billion contract awarded by the Air Force and the Navy.
And about 80 percent of the aircraft's surfaces and support structures are made from graphite composites supplied from the Hercules Aerospace Products Group plant in Magna, Utah.
Marine Brig. Gen. Harold W. Blot, program manager for the V22 for the Naval Air Systems Command, said the Osprey does everything that a combat pilot could want from an aircraft.
"There are three things you want to do when you take off in combat," he said. "First is don't get shot. The second thing is, if you get shot, stay in the air. And the third thing is, if you failed at the first two, be able to walk away from the smoking hulk."
Bell will build the wings, engine housings, transmissions and rotors. Boeing will be responsible for the fuselage and flight controls. Allison, a division of General Motors, will supply the T406 engines which develop 6,150 shaft horespower.
Bell hopes to sell 3,000 to 4,000 units. Thus far the Marines have ordered 552, the Air Force, 55, and the Navy 50.
Bell officials said the V-22 can land virtually anywhere, even chop small trees with its rotors while landing. They believe the mission to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980, which ended in a disaster, might have succeeded if a V-22, instead of a regular helicopter, had been used.
Military uses for the plane would include assault missions, fleet support, combat search and rescue and special warfare support. Commercially, the V-22 could prove valuable at congested airports and also as a short-haul downtown-to-downtown transport vehicle.
Bell said the Osprey is only one fourth as noisy as a regular helicopter and can fly twice as fast in its airplane mode. It has a range of 500 nautical miles.
Each plane uses approximately 6,500 pounds of graphite material, and only about 1,000 of the structural weight will be metal, mainly in the landing gear, fasteners and outer surfaces.
If up to 2,500 aircraft are built by the year 2000, that would mean 20 million pounds of graphite composites and about $1 billion in work for Hercules, company officials said.