While winding down its CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor deliveries under contract with the U.S. Air Force, Bell is looking to improve the maintainability of the multi-role fleet with a nacelle upgrade program.
Work on the initial Osprey was completed at Bell’s Amarillo Assembly Center facility in Texas during December and returned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base. Upgrades, meanwhile, have begun on the second aircraft.
The nacelles house the power components for the Osprey’s vertical takeoff and landing, as well as transition to forward flight. The program, which essentially involves the replacement of the nacelle, is designed to improve the wiring and components to reduce maintenance time and cost and improve flying readiness, the company said.
“The incorporated nacelle improvements help ensure the Osprey continues to outpace adversaries both operationally and sustainably,” said Kurt Fuller, V-22 program director, and Bell vice president,
To date, Bell has delivered well over 400 of the tiltrotor variants with fleets that had amassed more than 600,000 flight hours. Beyond the U.S. forces, Bell has delivered all 17 MV-22s on order to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
As of this month, Bell had delivered 54 of the 56 Ospreys it has been under contract with the USAF. Once the USAF upgrade work is completed, Fuller said the company plans to look at similar work for the U.S. Marine Corps’ fleet of MV-22s, which now numbers 342. The program of record has called for up to 360 with 355 under contract.
Additionally, Bell said the U.S. Navy has expressed interest in the program as well for its CMV-22B variants. Bell is in the throes of deliveries to the U.S. Navy, handing over 14 thus far of 48 under contract. In all, Fuller estimated Bell had about three or four more years of deliveries under the current programs of record.
Fuller said the aircraft remain in demand for various combat and humanitarian roles, noting that the Osprey was the first on-site to provide aid and support to Haiti in the wake of last year’s catastrophic earthquake.
“Leveraging that experience from a program perspective allows us to work closely with our, our government counterpart and collaborate on, how to make the V 22 even better, and how do we maximize the speed and range,” Fuller said, adding, this effort focused on readiness and reliability updates to keep the fleet viable into the 2040-2050 timeframe.
The nacelle program involves changing the architecture for more “point-to-point” wiring that can be more robust in the environments that the Ospreys operate. But the nacelle structure itself is changing with stronger materials, more access points, and wearable parts that are easier to maintain and replace, among other modifications.
Fuller said the benefit of having the work done in Amarillo—where new Ospreys are produced—is that the employee base has the requisite skill sets and is already building the new nacelles for production. Building on that experience reduces risk and will enable to get the modification process down to about what the company expects to be about a 30-day timeframe on each aircraft with the current program spanning the next couple of years, Fuller said.
“The Marine Corps is watching that closely and looking to bring their fleet in, on the backside of the Air Force,” he concluded.