Engineers developing the Bell [TXT] Nexus air taxi are helping drive innovations that may lead to hybrid electric military air vehicles in the near term and all electric military air vehicles further down the line, Bell CEO Mitch Snyder said on Aug. 1.
While companies’ defense and commercial sectors often live apart from one another, Bell employees often move between the sectors and to Bell’s recently created Innovation Center in Fort Worth.
Nearly 64 percent of Bell’s almost $3.2 billion in sales last year came from military programs, such as the V-22 tiltrotor, which Bell builds with Boeing [BA].
“We have kind of an overlap between our commercial, military and innovation team,” Snyder told a Center for Strategic and International Studies Main Street Defense forum. “One week, I’ll be at the Pentagon meeting with senior officials, and the next week I’m out in Silicon Valley sitting down with [CEO] Dara [Khosrowshahi] at Uber having discussions on air taxis and mobility and meeting with governments on mobility.”
Such fusion “brings a lot of creativity to the market, seeing what the commercial and military demands are,” Snyder said.
An example of such overlap is the Autonomous Pod Transport, an unmanned air vehicle that Bell is developing to carry 20 pounds of payload and more for commercial and military uses.
“Even Nexus and air taxi, when you have an aircraft that’s extremely quiet, safe, whether hybrid or hybrid electric, there’s going to be military applications for it as well,” Snyder said.
While the Nexus may carry four commercial passengers on trips of up to 60 miles, the military will likely want more range and payload.
“When you go to the military, I think we’re going to have to look at how we get more range and payload out of these type of vehicles,” Snyder said.
The Bell CEO also discussed the company’s work on the V-280 Valor advanced tiltrotor, which Bell is offering for the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift-Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA).
The Army wants FLRAA to focus on taking over the Sikorsky [LMT] UH-60 Black Hawk’s utility/assault role rather than assuming the attack mission of the Boeing AH-64E Apache.
The two most likely competitors for FLRAA are the V-280 and the Boeing [BA]-Sikorsky SB-1 Defiant. Both aircraft have participated in the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstration (JMR-TD) program.
Snyder said that Bell designed the V-280 with reliability and maintainability in mind and that technicians can change out gear boxes quickly and an engine in less than an hour. The 300 knot V-280 has flown 200 hours thus far and has met all FLRAA key performance parameters, according to Bell.
“We wanted to go ahead and build the real aircraft,” rather than a demonstrator or a prototype, Snyder said of the V-280.