Drone technology for helicopter propulsion and an electric air taxi – two initiatives announced by Bell Helicopter in the last week although the US helicopter manufacturer has yet to confirm the two are linked.
Bell Helicopter is at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week with a concept of the cabin for an electric flying taxi. It’s a modern, almost futuristic styling exercise bearing a strong resemblance to the FCX-001 Concept Helicopter unveiled in March 2017.
The drone tech propulsion is called HYDRA, which Bell says stands for Hybrid Drive Train Research Aircraft. Sounds like someone has a classics background – Hydra is also the many-headed serpent in Greek mythology. HYDRA is helping Bell research advanced distributed propulsion systems – ie, just like Volocopter.
Bell Helicopter HYDRA video
Bell says HYDRA also probes the capabilities of new hybrid propulsion technologies, including electric and fluid dynamic power systems.
“Unlike our production aircraft, HYDRA is not built for a specific mission,” said the company. “Instead, it has been an important tool for testing distributed propulsion technology and its application to other innovations, including air taxi.
“HYDRA has already proved to be a great teacher. Our team has discovered the unexpected stability of a circular wing in flight and certain control laws that allow aircraft stability in VTOL mode, airplane mode, during transition and even in the event of a system failure.”
Meanwhile, The Verge is reporting from CES2018 where it interviewed Scott Drennen, Bell’s director of innovation. He said about the air taxi cabin concept, “We’re just keeping our particular propulsion system in configuration to ourselves right now, to keep our competition on their heels.”
Drennan confirmed Bell was working with Uber to meet its electric air taxi demonstration target of 2020 for a flying prototype.