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Agility here measures specifically the aircraft’s “ability to respond rapidly and precisely to pilot inputs at low speeds or ‘at the X,’ [i.e.] at the landing site,” Bell’s delighted program manager, Ryan Ehinger, told me in an interview. “The V-280 handles like a sports car.”
Bell’s chief engineer on the V-280 offered a somewhat more technical explanation of the Army standard. “ADS-33 Level 1 performance assesses both the responsiveness of the aircraft and the pilot’s workload in flying the aircraft,” Paul Wilson said in an email. “For the V-280 … the aircraft is designed with the control power required for Level 1 responsiveness. Reduced pilot workload is achieved through flight control augmentation taking advantage of the fly-by-wire system. The V-280’s Level 1 agility demonstrated in flight test is equal to or better than the UH-60.”
In layman’s terms, “Level One Handling Qualities” means the aircraft meets the Army’s official Aeronautical Design Standard (ADS-33) for how well it responds to the pilot in fine-grained, low-altitude maneuvers: decelerating to a stationary hover, turning to a precise heading, maintaining a specific altitude and orientation, and so on. It’s assessed by having test pilots put the aircraft through the prescribed maneuvers and rate how hard they had to work to make the aircraft perform.
The ADS-33 standard was only made official in the late 1990s, originally for the cancelled Comanche program. It doesn’t apply retroactively to the Army’s existing aircraft, and it’s likely that only rotorcraft with the latest generation of digital flight controls, often called “fly by wire,” can ever achieve Level One. In fact, the only existing aircraft my sources could think of that met this standard was the CH-47F Chinook and its special operations variant, the MH-47G, which the Army has decided to stop buying.