US' iconic Black Hawk to replaced by V-280 'Valor' helicopter after 40 years of service

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The US Army is set to replace its iconic Black Hawk helicopters with thousands of new V-280 “Valor” aircraft after four decades of military operations. Black Hawks have been taking US soldiers to different war zones across the globe for over 40 years. But they are set to be replaced with a bigger chopper that can carry more soldiers while flying at faster speeds as the US army bolsters its capabilities. The V-280 “Valor” helicopters can take-off and land vertically, letting them fly at speeds similar to a fixed-wing plane.

The aircraft has twin, tilting rotor blades, letting them hover like a helicopter or fly like a plane. Capable of carrying 14 troops plus a crew of four, it marks an increase from the Black Hawk’s capacity of 11 troops and a crew of four. 

In the new chopper’s construction, Composite materials are used extensively to keep weight low, while its carbon fibre reinforced polymer-made wings also reduce its weight and cost. 

With a staggering speed of over 345mph (nearly double the Black Hawk) and a far bigger combat range of 920 miles, the Valor appears to far dwarf the capabilities of the 1979 Black Hawk. 

It comes amid the growing threat posed by Beijing in the Pacific, which the US wants to keep tabs on with its brand-new choppers.

Steve Trimble, defence editor of US-based Aviation Week, said: “The US Army is preparing to be ready to fight a war in the Pacific against a peer adversary.

“Those assumptions require an aircraft with much more speed and range, and that doesn’t need a runway to take off and land. So an aircraft like the V-280 is exactly what they think they need for that future scenario.”

The Valors form part of the US’ future helicopter programme, in which 2,000 Black Hawks and 1,200 Apache attack helicopters are expected to be replaced by around 2030.

On Monday, the US Army awarded the contract for the next-generation helicopter to Textron Inc’s Bell unit, putting an end to the years-long competition for the technology that will replace the Black Hawk.

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Mitch Snyder, CEO of Bell said in a statement: “We are ready to equip soldiers with the speed and range they need to compete and win using the most mature, reliable, and affordable high-performance long-range assault weapon system.”

London Bureau Chief at Aviation Week Tony Osborne said the announcement as “game-changing”. 

He tweeted: Finally, the US Army has selected Bell Flight’s tiltrotor V-280 Valor as its FLRAA platform to eventually replace the UH-60 Black Hawk. Game-changing decision for the US rotorcraft industry and transformative for Bell itself.”

The first UH-60 Black Hawk hit the skies in 1974 and entered service with the 101st Airborne in 1979. The helicopter first eneterd physical combat during the US’ 1983 invasion of Grenada, and has arguably become the country’s most recognisable aircraft in the post-9/11 era.

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The helicopter came to popular attention following the release of Ridley Scott’s movie Black Hawk Down, which detailed the aricraft’s use and crash in special operations forces in Somalia.

Over the last 20 or so years, Black Hawks were used heavily in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and in other counterterror operations around the world.

This announcement of its replacement also comes after China’s Z-20 utility helicopter allegedly became more advanced than the Black Hawk, adopting many advanced technologies the Black Hawk does possess, the chief designer of the Chinese chopper told state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).

Deng Jinghui claimed: “It is not [the Z-20] that has copied the Black Hawk, it is the Z-20 that has surpassed the Black Hawk.”



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