Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor won the US Army’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) competition in 2022. (Bell)

SOF WEEK 2024 — The Army held a preliminary design review (PDR) of the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) in late March and is in the process of tweaking the aircraft’s design to accommodate unique equipment for special operators, according to a spokesperson for the Army’s aviation program executive office.

“The Army conducted the FLRAA weapon system Preliminary Design Review (PDR) on March 25-29 and is in the process of closing out some open actions,” the spokesperson told Breaking Defense in a statement. 

“The Army is currently working with the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to incorporate provisions into the baseline design that will enable integration of SOCOM-specific mission equipment packages. This will avoid major re-design efforts that we have seen in previous SOCOM configurations, and more efficiently use SOCOM funding early in the Army’s base-line design efforts,” they added.

A PDR is a key step in the development process of a major weapon system, which ensures that a product’s design is effective and typically informs a program’s eventual Milestone B decision. A Bell official previously said the program’s Milestone B decision — the formal entry into the engineering and manufacturing development phase — is planned for the third quarter of this year, according to Defense News

SOCOM’s Rotary Wing Program Executive Officer Steven Smith first revealed that the PDR had occurred during May 7 comments at the SOF Week conference, and said the command and the Army have had a years-long dialogue to “influenc[e] the FLRAA design,” which yielded changes to the aircraft as a result.

“The good news is prior to the recent completion of their PDR, that they’ve adopted all of our changes to the aircraft,” Smith said, according to Aviation Week. Per Smith, that included specific nose design requirements, hardware for a refueling probe and “a couple other minor things that we’ve asked for to get into that platform that will make our modifications less expensive down the road.”

The collaboration, Smith said, is a “a good news story” that will make it “easier for us to incorporate all the secret sauce, all those boxes that we put on the aircraft that provide our unique capability.”

Bell Textron’s tiltrotor V-280 Valor in December 2022 bested a joint team consisting of Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky and Boeing, who offered a coaxial rotor design known as the Defiant X in an Army competition. The service expects to field the aircraft in the early 2030’s.