Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc., unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas a full-scale mockup concept of Nexus, its 5-passenger vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) air taxi vehicle. The aircraft will be powered by a hybrid-electric propulsion system for extended range and will feature six tilting ducted fans which increase power and minimize noise. The Nexus bears a striking resemblance to a predecessor: the Bell X-22, an experimental military aircraft with four ducted fans which flew in the mid-1960s. Today, the goal is a ridesharing-on-demand business model for cities, led by Uber, perhaps by the mid-2020s.
Bell has assembled partners in “Team Nexus” for the air taxi project, while leading the design, development and production of the VTOL systems. The associated companies will provide:
Safran — the hybrid propulsion and drive systems
Electric Power Systems (EPS) — managed energy storage systems
Thales — the Flight Control Computer (FCC) hardware and software
Moog — the flight control actuation systems
Garmin — integration of the avionics and the vehicle management computer (VMC)
There are significant problems which will need to be solved before an air taxi service can be made available to the public, in particular the deployment of Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM or U-space), airworthiness safety certification, and ground infrastructure such as heliports or “vertiports”.
Bell also announced the Autonomous Pod Transport (APT), a 4- or 8-rotor cargo VTOL aircraft which will be available in several sizes for medical, law enforcement, and on-demand delivery services. The design is a VTOL biplane which sits on its tail on the ground and transitions to winged flight in the air. Smaller versions of the APT will be similar in size and payload to larger c-drones on the market today.