Bell provides update on 360 Invictus progress

Bell Textron has released new data on the build and testing for the Bell 360 Invictus competitive prototype. In a press release on August 11, the company said that the Bell 360 programme is rapidly progressing through manufacturing, assembly, components testing and systems integration work for the US Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programme.

The team has completed multiple design and risk reviews with the US Army and is on schedule for all programme requirements. The Bell 360, a low-risk, high-speed platform with proven technology and inherently reliable designs, will deliver soldiers transformational operational capabilities at an affordable cost, says the company.

Chris Gehler, vice president and programme director for the Bell 360 Invictus, said: “This team is achieving great results responding to requirements, reducing programmatic risk and delivering state-of-the-art capabilities for the Army. We are combining Bell’s unique knowledge of the demands placed on scout aircraft with engineering and technical expertise to give the Army a weapon system to dominate attack reconnaissance missions for decades to come.”

Bell 360 Invictus in production
This image, released on August 11 by the manufacturer, shows the Bell 360 Invictus under assembly on June 28, highlighting the progress being made. First flight is scheduled for next year. Bell Textron

Since beginning the build in late 2020, Bell has made significant progress on the Bell 360 Invictus fuselage, main rotor blades, gearbox assembly, cases and other high-value components. By implementing a design-as-built methodology that digitally connects the entire programme throughout its lifecycle, Bell says it has increased its ability to collaborate in real-time with programme partners and the Army. This method accelerates decision-making among distributed teams using a common, secure data environment that creates a singular source of data for the program leading to reduced assembly, rework time and cost.

Along with assembling the Bell 360 Invictus, high-value components such as the main rotor gearbox, driveshafts and couplings are being tested at Bell’s Drive Systems Test Lab (DSTL). The DSTL is used to carry out risk-reduction efforts that ensure the programme has accurate and verified data to qualify components in advance of flight test.

A new FARA-specific Systems Integration Lab (SIL) is also operational at Bell. This facility allows Bell to integrate flight-critical components, software and mission systems for testing, verification and validation of functionality before they take flight on an actual aircraft. This approach reduces technical risk and will aid in the safe, rapid and efficient execution of flight test programme.

Jayme Gonzalez, programme manager, Bell 360 Invictus, said: “The Bell 360 Invictus is an exciting aircraft that brings sophisticated digital systems together in a high-speed, reliable, maintainable vehicle for austere environments around the world. The Bell 360 offers the Army the ability to modernize using simplified and inherently reliable designs to reduce costs and deliver enhanced effectiveness for the Army.”

The US Army initiated the FARA programme in 2018 to find a belated replacement for the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, which was retired in 2014, as part of the Future Vertical Lift programme. An initial five competitors were whittled down to just two for Phase Two of the competition, with Bell and Sikorsky selected on March 25, 2020, to proceed with development of flying prototypes. This phase is to end by autumn 2023 with a government flight test evaluation of the two competing prototypes. Sikorsky’s competing design is the Raider X.