Bell Flight has released its Nexus Air Taxi prototype at CES 2019.
The vertical mobility company claims that the Nexus air taxi will weigh roughly 6,000 pounds, be able to fly at 150mph, and have a range of 150 miles. Bell Flight also announced that the air taxi will use augmented reality, as well as intelligent interior design to provide a signature passenger experience that doesn’t compromise safety.
One of the important design selections that Bell Flight revealed was the decision to use a hybrid-electric propulsion system on the Nexus: featuring 6 ducted fans that have variable tilt angles to facilitate vertical takeoff and landing, as well as accelerated forward flight. The blades will be 8 feet in diameter. The Nexus builds from Bell Flight’s reveal of the passenger cabin of their “Air Taxi” at CES in 2018, which would eventually become the passenger cabin of the Nexus.
There are a few important distinctions that Bell Flight has underscored in the design of the Nexus; namely, the decision to bypass autonomous operation (at least in the early stages of flight operations) and also to use a hybrid-electric propulsion system. Other urban aviation companies are pursuing one of these design selections, but hardly any have down-selected both. The Nexus will carry four passengers and have one pilot, which fits with Uber’s eCRM standards for revenue-generating commercial air taxi operations. A commonly cited shortcoming of many air taxi designs is the passenger capacity – at least 3 (and preferably 4) are needed if a pilot is to be onboard the aircraft in order for commercial operations to prove profitable.
Additionally, Bell Flight has outsourced a larger portion of their design than many other eVTOL companies have – companies like Garmin, Thales, Moog, and Safran will provide avionics, flight control computers, flight control hardware, and the non-electric propulsion system, along with EPS providing batteries. Lastly, the design also keeps safety in mind: if one of the rotors fails, the aircraft will be able to land itself, and if the gas-turbine should cease operation, the small onboard battery will have enough power to allow the Nexus to land safely as well. Even the battery itself has containment cells that should prevent the spread of any undesired combustion.
Bell Flight’s experience in mass-producing helicopters and other aircraft will prove valuable as the company begins their production phase. Common among urban aviation manufacturing challenges is complex geometry composite fabrication at scale, as well as integration of entirely new systems, like that of the hybrid electric propulsion planned to be used on the Nexus.
Why it’s important: Bell Flight has finally released their prototype for their Air Taxi, which was kept under wraps less the release of the cabin mock-up of the then “Bell Air Taxi” at CES in 2018. The company’s announcement that the aircraft will be hybrid-electric, along with the confirmation that Bell Flight will be partnering with a number of well-respected aerospace companies on their eVTOL design adds much-desired clarity and definition to the path forward for Bell.