The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has granted Bell a $950,000 contract to conduct applied research into a high-speed vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.

Few details have been disclosed regarding “Bell’s High Speed VTOL (HSVTOL),” as it is referred to in the contract notice. However, the research contract comes several months after the US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) said it was looking ahead for a VTOL aircraft with “jet speeds” to replace its Bell Boeing CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

Diagram from Bell’s “Active Sail Blade” application published in December 2020. Source // Bell

Bell has been exploring aircraft that can take off vertically using tiltrotors, but then fly forward in cruise mode using thrust from jet engines, according to patent applications published between 2017 and 2020 by the US and European patent offices. Rotor blades would fold back to reduce drag during forward jet-powered flight.

“During operation as a turbofan engine, the bypass fan produces a bypass airflow to provide thrust to the aircraft,” explains a Bell patent application published by the European Patent Office in April 2020. “During operation as a turboshaft engine, the bypass airflow produced by the bypass fan is blocked, allowing other aircraft systems to utilize the power produced by the convertible engine via the power output shaft.”

Lieutenant General James Slife is the commander of AFSOC, and recently explained “we’re looking at a generational movement for vertical take-off and landing capability going into the future. I think it’ll probably be something quite different than the V-22.” Meanwhile, Bell is also pursuing development of the V-280 Valor for the US Army’s Future Long Range Assault program, which will have a cruise speed of 280 kts, only 29 kts faster than the CV-22 Osprey. However, the AFSOC has its sights set on a vehicle capable of “jet speeds” so it is unlikely that technology from the V-280 will be applied to Bell’s HSVTOL.

Why it’s important: The research Bell is conducting has potential to immensely grow the realm of possibilities for commercial aerial mobility. By optimizing vehicle design for higher speeds through the cruise phase of flight, eVTOL operators will have the option to connect passengers to further away destinations. Ultimately, the technology Bell is developing is ideal for bridging the regional mobility gap in the current air transportation industry.

Source // FlightGlobal

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