The Bell V-280 Valor tiltrotor recently began test flights with thermoplastic parts. Two new GKN Aerospace thermoplastic composite, induction-welded ruddervators and two compression-molded access panels made from reused thermoplastic waste were delivered to Bell in June 2019. The newly installed components have now flown more than 12 hours on V-280 test flights, including during the recently completed autonomous flight testing.
The parts make the V-280 one of the first military aircraft flying successfully with thermoplastic components. The V-280 continued to exhibit excellent responsiveness during test maneuvers according to pilots who flew with the new components installed, according to GKN. The company has designed and manufactured the complete thermoset composite V-Tail for the aircraft. The advanced thermoplastic ruddervators significantly reduce weight, cost, and parts count. “GKN Aerospace’s thermoplastic ruddervators are a great example where we were able to add value and reduce risk for future programs,” said Ryan Ehinger, Bell vice president and program director for the U.S. Army’s Future Long-range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA). Bell is one of two finalists for the program recently down-selected by the U.S. Army.
GKN’s said its design team continues to work with Bell to optimize the V-Tail design to meet customer requirements for the FLRAA program. The company already manufactures thermoplastic rudders, elevators, and fuselage panels for a wide variety of business jets. GKN notes that thermoplastics offer significant advantages in terms of weight, costs, production time, and environmental impact.