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I spied a hybrid helicopter

The FCX-001. Source: Bell Helicopter

New helicopter concept to sweep into reality in 2018 unveiled at Heli Expo in Dallas

A hybrid helicopter concept has been unveiled by US aircraft manufacturer Bell Helicopter – the company responsible for breaking the sound barrier and designing top-range aircraft operational in over 120 countries. Its latest innovation – the Bell FCX-001 – was unveiled on March 7 at the 2017 Heli Expo.

The helicopter will use a hybridised propulsion system which will combine thermal engine cores as the primary form of power, as well as an electric anti-torque system.

This anti-torque system does away with the need for a tail rotor – a fairly bold step in helicopter innovation. The goal is to improve safety, but noise and performance parameters will also be pushed to the limit for vertical-lift aircraft. The gears and transmission shafts which usually pull power from the main engine will be eliminated too.

Most interestingly, the main rotor blades will also “morph” to alter aircraft performance according to its mission. The variable profile has been compared to some fighter aircraft.

The company is very concerned with saving energy: “The airframe is also our front line for energy management where we harvest, store, attenuate and distribute external energy or system energy not already employed for useful work on the air vehicle.” Sustainable materials will be used for the body in order to adhere to consumption trends and, of course, structural performance.

Although the concept has been unveiled, Bell is hesitant in giving any real specs for the helicopter just yet. What is more interesting is the process by which the concept came about. This seems to be where the real story lies for the company.1_NMT_Magazine_Garage_Open_Doors_RGB

Artists and engineers were brought together to collaborate and innovate, with engineers usually having to hold the reigns on designs resembling a transformer. A sleek body and interior, and promises of autonomous flight in the future is enough to get enthusiasts excited.

The Sikorsky Firefly, an all-electric helicopter released last year which is more on the buggy side of the spectrum of design, may have a contender in the near future.

Overall, it looks like this project is going somewhere. Although still in its infancy, dedicated staff and a vision for the future will allow this project to pioneer the hybrid-heli market. Nevertheless, before we get too excited, Electrans would like to know what kind of power this thing will have.

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