ARLINGTON, Texas -- Soldiers from the famed 2-506th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) descended on the Bell Helicopter Flight Research Center to take a look at the V-280 Valor.
Designed and built under the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) program, the Valor has flown more than 190 hours demonstrating the advanced tilt-rotor technology needed to achieve the reach, agility, and speed the Army is looking for in its next generation air assault aircraft.
The Rakkasans participated in what the U.S. Army Futures Command calls a "Soldier Touchpoint." Soldier Centered Design is a key element of how Army Futures Command is taking on modernization of the Army. "Soldier feedback early in the design process aids in getting the requirements right and ultimately putting useful capability into the hands of warfighters in the near term, not decades from now," said Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, director of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Cross-Functional Team (CFT).
As members of the rifle squad conducted ingress and egress drills with their full kit, engineers took copious notes from comments on the cabin configuration, seat layout, restraint harnesses and headrests of the V-280. "The headrests were somewhat of a hindrance when wearing the Kevlar helmet and would most likely be worse if we had our NODs (night optical/observation devices) attached," commented Sgt. 1st. Class Vuthy Hamm an operations sergeant for the 2-506th Infantry Regiment.
The Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. James C. McConville, stopped by to observe the soldier touchpoint and took a moment to gather the team around to thank them. "It’s important that you are here," he told the squad. "The engineers do a pretty good job designing the cockpit, the engines, and such but we have to remember we’re building this for you, the customer and your feedback now is important."
It wasn’t just about assessing the cabin space and seat utility though, there were some advanced technologies the infantrymen were able to try out and provide feedback on. In a partnership with Bell Helicopter, Lockheed Martin developed the Pilotage Distributed Aperture Sensor, or PDAS for short, which allows the inhabitants of the Valor to see 360 degrees through the skin of the aircraft while in flight. Though initially developed for the aircrews, the Army wanted to have the Soldiers don the PDAS prototype goggles to determine the potential application for passengers.
"This would definitely give us an advantage and improve our situational awareness," Sgt. 1st. Class Hamm said. "We would be able to see terrain features and landmarks on approach to the LZ (landing zone) and have our bearings before exiting the aircraft."
The Army has previously conducted several other Soldier touchpoints with the JMR-TD aircraft albeit primarily focused on the pilots, crew chiefs, and mechanics. This was the first customer focused assessment involving an infantry rifle squad.
"The best people to assess these capabilities are the operational Soldiers, the soldiers living it every day," exclaimed Sgt. Maj. Joseph Aird the FVL CFT operations sergeant major.
When asked if he thought the Soldier touchpoint was worthwhile, Sgt. 1st. Class Hamm responded, "In 16 years I’ve never been asked for my input on a new piece of equipment, I’m honored to have our input and suggestions heard and hopefully impact future Soldiers."
Additional Soldier touchpoints are scheduled with the SB-1 Defiant JMR-TD aircraft developed by the Sikorsky-Boeing team.