January 16th, 2019 by Nicolas Zart on Clean Technica
The air taxi space is crowded — if not on paper, then with prototypes and flying demos. Bell Helicopter, a Textron Inc. company, is a global helicopter leader and no stranger to the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) world. It announced the Bell Nexus, a hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft a few years ago at CES. This year, we caught up with the team at CES in Las Vegas to find out what it looks like and what it means for our future mobility needs by 2023.
Bell Nexus eVTOL — The Air Taxi of The Future?
So far, we’ve seen air taxis come in different sizes, shapes, and looks. But rarely do they come with more than 4 seats. Bellshowed us the full-size demonstration of its Nexus eVTOL, and it was big. In fact, it was so big we couldn’t shoot full-size pictures of it in the large space of its CES booth.
The company also showed two unmanned delivery aircraft systems (UAS), otherwise also known as drones, along with flight control simulator booths. But nothing could overshadow how imposing the Bell Nexus was and is.
Did we say the Bell Nexus is big, really big? Perhaps it’s because videos and pictures don’t always convey the size, proportion, or impact these aircraft have. With its massive 90-degree 6 tilting rotors, it houses 4 passengers and a pilot cockpit. It is powered by a hybrid-electric propulsion system using a Safran turbine. One battery pack sits on top of the aircraft in front of the turbine, and another pack below the aircraft frame. The Nexus will use Bell’s lift concept, with the 6 tilting ducted fans designed to be safe, redundant, and fairly quiet for air travel. Mitch Snyder, President and CEO of Bell, said:
“As space at the ground level becomes limited, we must solve transportation challenges in the vertical dimension – and that’s where Bell’s on-demand mobility vision takes hold. The industry has anticipated the reveal of our air taxi for some time, so Bell is very proud of this moment. We believe the design, taken with our strategic approach to build this infrastructure, will lead to the successful deployment of the Bell Nexus to the world.”
Mike Hirschberg, VFS Executive Director, also added: “The unveiling of the Bell Nexus concept highlights that the ‘Electric VTOL Revolution’ is gaining momentum.” To say the least, it is gaining a lot of momentum when a heavyweight player as Bell reveals its Nexus eVTOL.
Scott Drennan, Bell VP of Innovation, specifically told us: “Unveiling the Bell Nexus at CES was an incredible experience, and we are happy so many others were able to join us as we shared Bell’s vision for On Demand Mobility.”
Bell Nexus eVTOL, Building on 75 Years of Vertical Flight
What makes Bell a natural for an eVTOL is its famous V‑22 Osprey, the military half plane, half helicopter tiltrotor it designed in the early 1980s with the Bell Boeing tiltrotor team. The V-22 Osprey was a development if its highly complex 1966 X-22A Navy Tri-Service Assault Transport Program. It housed no fewer than 11 gearboxes to actuate the four tilting ducted propellers. In order to build a more modern eVTOL, Bell had to find new partners for its Nexus.
Besides Safran, the Nexus crew teamed up with EPS, Thales, Moog, and Garmin. Bell chose EPS for its energy storage systems, Thales for its Flight Control Computer (FCC) hardware and software, Moog for the flight control actuation systems, and Garmin for avionics and the vehicle management computer (VMC). An alternative reality (AR) app showed how the components of the Nexus VTOL are laid out.
The 6 propellers are housed in a tilting duct, which cuts down on noise compared to conventional helicopters. The noise wave is propagated up and down instead of spread horizontally. Once the Bell Nexus reaches a high enough altitude, the propellers tilt forward and the Nexus rests on two short airplane wings. The aircraft uses a the V-tail configuration that we were told also reduces the noise of the turbine when in use.
Bell Nexus Announces An Aggressive Roadmap
The Nexus will weigh around 6,500 lb and can land on a 40-foot by 40-foot landing pad. Its range is 150 miles flown in an hour. But Bell announced a particularly aggressive roadmap aiming for the cost to eventually be 50 cents a mile. Mind you — we don’t expect to see these numbers at the beginning of its service.
We talked to a few team members and notably Kyle Heironimus, who works on Nexus engineering. He told us that the Bell Nexus was designed to use various energy drivetrain configurations. This leads me to believe the Nexus will eventually become a fully electric aircraft, as soon as battery density improves enough.
Overall, the team told us the Nexus was designed around safety, which also means plenty of redundant systems, as with anything in aviation. Most obvious is the use of a dual generator system, which means the Bell Nexus is capable of flying or coming to a safe landing in case one of its rotors should fail. It can also handle one rotor failure, using the 5 others to balance its flight.
Bell Shows Its Last-Mile Autonomous Pod Transport Vehicle
Bell also showed its Autonomous Pod Transport (APT), a 20 to 100 lb transport drone that meets various requirements, from medical to law enforcement (and more).
It also showed its Future Flight Controls simulator, with a never-ending line of CES participants exploring where it collects data for its future flight controls. The data gathered will be used to determine what actions and interfaces are most intuitive to the average potential operator and what prior experiences and abilities contribute to these opinions.
Bell Nexus, An Old Idea Turned Into A Modern eVTOL
Needless to say, I was very impressed with the Bell Nexus, both in terms of size and the sheer amount of expertise the company has going into it. Bell has been around since 1943, with over 35,000 helicopters sold. This was another case of a traditional OEM showing how it can rise to the modern challenges of our future mobility needs.
One thing we’d love to request from Bell next year: Please, don’t display a black aircraft at CES. It’s close to impossible to take pictures or film. We suggest white, light blue, or any other light colors that accentuate contrasts. In any case, we can’t wait to see more of the Bell Nexus eVTOL.
Rolls-Royce Racing To Build World’s Fastest Electric Airplane
January 16th, 2019 by Nicolas Zart
Rolls-Royce is well-known for its plush cars with infinite refinements. It is not generally known for its electric ventures. The company has dipped its fingers in autonomous electric ferries, as well as an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft concept. So why not the world’s fastest electric airplane?
Rolls-Royce Toys With Fastest Electric Airplane Plan
Red Bull Air Race, we’ve been ready and dearly waiting for electric plane races that would make for a sensational addition to your thrilling air races. Perhaps Rolls-Royce can jump-start e-plane racing.
According to Flying Magazine, Rolls-Royce is working on another electric project that takes to the sky in its Gloucestershire airport in South West England. Its Accelerating the Electrification of Flight (ACCEL) project seeks to explore the high-power electrical system for demonstrator aircraft. With the same token, Rolls Royce wants to build and fly the world’s fastest e-plane.
Technically, this is a joint venture with the UK government, Rolls-Royce, the Japanese electric motor maker YASA, and Electroflight Ltd. Rolls-Royce wants to leverage Yasa’s high-power, lightweight electric motors for aerospace by simply making the world’s fastest e-plane. Electroflight’s expertise lies with high-performance electric powertrains and energy storage systems, which leads me to think the aircraft will have the capacity to recoup energy when decelerating?
Performance wise, the e-plane is expected to reach 300 mph (261 knots, 483 km/h). The press release hints that the e-plane could reach higher speeds, “quite likely more.” It will take to the skies in Great Britain by 2020. Unfortunately, all we know is that the aircraft will use 6,000 battery cells and will have a 200-mile range, enough for a London to Paris flight (214 miles).
According to Matheu Parr, ACCEL Project Manager for Rolls-Royce:
“This plane will be powered by a state-of-the-art electrical system and the most powerful battery ever built for flight. In the year ahead, we’re going to demonstrate its abilities in demanding test environments before going for gold in 2020 from a landing strip on the Welsh coastline.”
Rolls-Royce Pursues Electric Air Mobility
According to Rolls-Royce’s press release, the high-performance e-plane will be unlike anything the world has ever seen. And Rolls-Royce is quick to highlight its venerable aerospace achievements. It won the Schneider Trophy in 1931, which started its aerospace career. The British racing seaplane, known as the Supermarine S.6B, established a speed record at 343 mph. The current e-plane record was set by Siemens at 210 mph in 2017. Parr and his team hint that: “and they even have their eyes on the Supermarine record.”
The challenges that need to be overcome are obvious. Design and build a battery powerful enough to beat a series of speed and performance records. It has to be light enough for flight and not overheat. For this, Parr says:
“We’re monitoring more than 20,000 data points per second, measuring battery voltage, temperature, and overall health of the powertrain, which is responsible for powering the propellers and generating thrust.”
Rolls-Royce seems committed to the electrification of air travel. The company is well known for its jet engines, found on many airliners today. It makes sense to move into the electrification of aviation. Indeed, in a previous press release, Rob Watson, Director of Electrical, Rolls-Royce: “The increased use of electrical systems is an inescapable trend in our markets and championing electrification is a core part of our long-term strategy at Rolls-Royce.”
So, Red Bull Air Race, ready for electric airplanes? We are.