The newest VTOL concept just hit the Heli-Expo in Dallas and it’s impressive. For the first time ever, Textron’s subsidiary company Bell Helicopter is developing a rotorcraft called the FCX-001. With a hybrid propulsion system and an airframe built from sustainable materials, the Bell FCX-001 is poised to revolutionize the aeronautics industry.
The Bell VTOL Aircraft
Armed with an autonomous flight software powered by artificial intelligence (AI), the Bell aircraft can be optionally piloted. “Six months ago we created a dedicated team to focus on emerging technologies and how we could incorporate them into our products,” President and CEO Mitch Snyder said at the Heli-Expo. “Among the team’s first tasks was to display visually the technologies and innovations that present a roadmap that we envision bringing to market.”
The action packed Bell Helicopter comes with an anti-torque system for improved safety, morphing rotor blades that “change to suit different flight conditions,” and an energy management system which “harvests, stores, and distributes external energy to the flight systems.” In other words, Textron’s VTOL has been engineered with optimal propulsion performance without compromising safety for its passengers. “Being a pioneer in the aircraft industry is in our DNA and we want to share this renewed passion with the world,” Snyder said.
Bell’s VTOL aircraft is just as impressive on the inside. From the modular flooring system that is fully customizable (to make room for cargo space) to its overhead LED lighting, the FCX-001, from a design perspective, is one of the most advanced VTOL prototypes ever conceptualized. The pilot has access to an augmented reality display which overlays all pertinent flight information. The AR technology also extends to the passengers – allowing them to carry on video conferences or share documents with fellow business colleagues.
VTOL Prototypes in Development
Whether it’s morphing rotor blades or Textron’s groundbreaking energy management system, the Bell Helicopter is a high-performance VTOL capable of autonomous flight. The FCX-001 joins an impressive list of VTOL aircraft prototypes already in development. They include the EHang 184, PAL-V’s Liberty, Google’s Zee Aero, Urban Aeronautics’ AirMule, Airbus’ Project Vahana, and Uber’s Elevate. “The FCX-001 points the way for our future – a renewed focus on innovative solutions and technologies. When the time is right, we look forward to sharing more of what we’re doing behind closed doors,” Snyder said.
Out of all of the VTOL prototypes currently in development, the Bell Helicopter is backed by an industry leader of “commercial and military manned/unmanned vertical-lift aircraft.” After designing the revolutionary Tiltrotor aircraft, Textron seems to have another gem on its hands. Barring any FAA regulatory setbacks, we should see the Bell Helicopter take its first test flight in the next year or so.