The Future of Vertical Lift
Bell Helicopter showed its hometown pride at the Heli-Expo, held this week in Dallas Convention Center. From the new helicopters on display to a slick tech demo that “serves as a roadmap for the future of rotary flight,” the Fort Worth-based helicopter manufacturer is making a full court press to put its innovation on display. Here’s what Bell’s version of the future could be.
The Concept Helicopter
The idea behind a concept aircraft is not to build something that will actually fly. It’s more like a walking advertisement to highlight the areas that a company is researching. At Bell, the FCX is a “roadmap” to improvements that will be on offer in the years and decades ahead.
OK, if the FCX did fly, it would look like this.
The interior of Bell’s new helicopters, like this 525, are cocooned in soundproof material, so the passengers can speak to each other without headsets. To speak to a pilot directly, those riding in the back can use a window to the cockpit much like a taxi. Or, given the VIP configuration of display here, a limousine.
The End of Tail Rotors
The tail rotor is a necessary evil of helicopters. It’s necessary because it provides the counter-torque that steers the craft. But the evil comes in when it clips fences, electric wires, or people. It also makes a lot of noise. Bell is “actively researching” new anti-torque systems that are embedded in the tail boom. Ask them what those technologies are, though, and they clam up quickly.
One Pilot in a Virtual Reality Cockpit
The FCX has a striking new vision for flight control. A pilot wear VR goggles and controls the aircraft with hand motions and voice controls. There are no manual controls at all.
Virtual Reality for Passengers, Too
Bell sees VR as a key selling point for passengers. Watching movies, moving maps of the flight and accessing the internet can all be accomplished by aiming a red ball with your head and holding over prompts. For those who see the big windows and want to watch the reality, the VR system is projected on the cabin.
Helicopters of the future could have configurable rotors that change shape for different phases of flight. The crooked angles seen here are good for high speed flight. The blades would straighten to be fully extended. This increases efficiency and increases speed.
No Arm Rests, No Sliding
Commercial airline passengers can feel hemmed in by armrests, but they are actually necessary to prevent sliding as an aircraft maneuvers. In Bell’s FCX concept helicopter, the seats are designed to keep butts firmly affixed but without inducing claustrophobia. The gaps are only there for aesthetics.
For Sale Soon
The Bell 525 is a new helicopter that Bell hopes to certify in 2018. (One crahsed in 2016, killing two pilots and delaying the program.) It’s got some user-freindly features in the back, like configureable lighting and soundproofing, that should make it popular for VIP flights and ferrying of oil rig workers.