LABACE Convention News

Bell and Embraer Want to Make the eVTOL Dream a Reality

 - August 12, 2019, 7:33 AM
Bell sees its Nexus electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft as a powerful new option for urban mobility.

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Helicopter-loving São Paulo has been identified as a prime prospective market for new electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Some would-be eVTOL aircraft developers and operators believe commercial operations could begin as soon as 2025, although it remains unclear whether any of the designs currently in development could achieve type certification by then.

Uber Elevate has been prominent among companies looking to commercialize eVTOL operations through its planned Uber Air ride-sharing program. As it determines which aircraft has the most potential to bring the concept to market, it has selected six prospective manufacturing partners: EmbraerX, Bell, Aurora Flight Sciences (owned by Boeing), Pipistrel Vertical Solutions, Karem Aircraft, and Jaunt Air Mobility.

Embraer and Bell are exhibiting at the 2019 LABACE show and may well take the opportunity to solicit Latin American market interest in their eVTOL plans.

The Brazilian airframer is pursuing its eVTOL ambitions through its EmbraerX future aerospace technology division. Since first announcing plans in May 2018, the company has said almost nothing publicly about its proposed design, which seems to be advancing under the working title DreamMaker. Now the company is soliciting public suggestions for a brand name for the design, without providing any details as to its performance, specifications, and timeline for service entry.

However, in May 2019, EmbraerX published its Flight Plan 2030 white paper calling for the creation of urban air traffic management systems. The report calls for city-specific urban air traffic management systems (UATMs) based on advanced information systems, automation technology, and artificial intelligence. These would define air routes and corridors to landing zones. The company also is working on an Urban Air Traffic Management program with subsidiary company Atech, and Harris of the U.S.

By contrast, helicopter maker Bell has gone public with its eVTOL plans. In January 2019, the U.S. company unveiled a full-scale example of its new Bell Nexus design at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and displayed this again at the HAI HeliExpo show in March. At this point, the design has space for four passengers plus a single pilot.

The Nexus prototype features a central wing, integrated landing skids, and a modified V-tail topped by a short horizontal stabilizer. When flight trials begin, at a yet-unspecified date, it will be powered by a hybrid-electric distributed propulsion system feeding six tilting ducted fans, each powered by individual electric motors. The ducted fans are intended to provide improved performance and a quieter noise signature than comparable open-rotor designs, according to the company.

At the CES show, Bell also announced four collaborating partners on Nexus, with Safran providing the hybrid propulsion and drive systems; Thales will provide flight-control computer hardware and software; Moog will develop flight-control actuation systems; and Garmin will integrate the avionics and the vehicle-management computer. EPS is tasked with developing the energy-storage system.

The Nexus propulsion system incorporates a series hybrid layout in which a turbine engine feeds an electrical distribution system, which in turn routes power to a battery pack that drives the fan motors. In addition to providing system redundancy in the event of turbine failure, the series hybrid architecture offers an upgrade path towards eventual fuel cell and/or full-electric propulsion.

Bell seems determined to make eVTOL technology a significant part of its future. “We see the industry transforming and our CEO, Mitch Snyder, is pushing us to reimagine the future of Bell,” Patrick Moulay, senior vice president, international business, told AIN in May. “You might have noticed that we no longer have 'helicopter' in our name and that is indicative of the type of change I’m talking about. It reflects the fact that we want to be a new company. Nexus is a concept that we think will be a prototype flying in a few years.”

Meanwhile, Bell is also working in partnership with Japan’s Yamato Holdings on designs for a family of unmanned air delivery vehicles called Autonomous Pod Transports. Initially, these would have capacity for loads of up to 70 pounds (154 kg), but larger models are also envisaged for delivery and logistics operations from around the mid-2020s.

In April, Japan’s Sumitomo group announced a partnership with Bell to work on an eVTOL-based logistics and transportation service. Sumitomo is a $68 billion international investment firm with holdings across a broad spectrum of industries including metal products, transportation and construction systems, environment and infrastructure, media, network, lifestyle-related goods and real estate, mineral resources, energy, chemical, and electronics.