At the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Bell helicopter has unveiled its new V-247 Vigilant tiltrotor drone for the US Marine Corps. Like the company's V-22 Osprey, the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) can lift off and hover like a helicopter, yet has the range and speed of a fixed-wing aircraft. According to Bell, the Vigilant can carry out combat reconnaissance missions from land bases without runways or from small ships with flight decks.

Bell says that the V-247 is intended to fit the capabilities required by the 2016 Marine Corps Aviation Plan and, if approved, could be in production by 2023. It has enough endurance for a pair of the aircraft to keep a target under surveillance for 24 hours a day, yet has a small logistical footprint. In addition, it has air-to-air refueling capability, a redundant flight control system, and an Electro Optical System and Targeting System.

Based on Bell's earlier work on the V-22 and the V-280 Valor, it combines the strengths of a helicopter and an fixed-wing airplane, and can fold its rotors so fits into the hangar of a US DDG guided missile destroyer. Its open architecture, modular design provides a high degree of flexibility with bays that allow it to carry extra fuel, high-definition sensors, sonar buoys, lidar, radar, and a combination of MK-50 torpedoes, or Hellfire and JAGM missiles.

According to Bell, the single-motor V-247 has retractable landing gear and can carry payloads of up to 2,000 to 9,000 lb (907 to 4,100 kg), depending on how they're stowed. It has a cruising speed of 240 kts (276 mph, 444 km/h), a maximum altitude of 25,000 ft (7,620 m), and a range of up to 1,400 nm (1,600 mi, 2,600 km) with an endurance of up to 17 hours. This allows it to not only provide 24-hour surveillance when used in pairs, but also to act as escorts for the V-22 or V-280.

One key point about the V-22 is its mission flexibility. Bell says that it can carry out any Group 5 UAS mission, which puts it on the same footing as the MQ-9 Reaper, RQ-4 Global Hawk, and MQ-4C Triton. It can conduct electronic warfare; Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR); escort flights; Command, Control, Communications, and Computers (C4); and persistent fire missions. In addition, it as autonomous flight capability, can carry out day or night picket duties, and provide early warning of incoming threats.

"Leveraging lessons learned from our extensive history and experience with tiltrotors, we have found the best available solution to fulfill the Marine Corps need for a Group 5 UAS," says Vince Tobin, vice president, advanced tiltrotor systems at Bell Helicopter. "The Bell V-247 Vigilant will give military customers the capabilities needed to reduce the complexity of deployment, increase speed of employment, reduce mission times and increase response time – all critical elements to completing missions to save lives and protect our freedom."

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