Author Archives: helenhaxell

Urban taxis: ready for take-off

The future of electric vertical take-off and landing and its role in public transportation is edging ever closer as OEMs and businesses join forces to make this once sci-fi dream a reality.

For a concept to become a product, there has to be demand and affordability – enter Uber, the taxi app company, which is using its meteoric rise in ground transportation to seriously launch sky taxis.

One of the drives behind Uber’s accessibility to urban transportation lies with the rise in traffic, congestion and modern stresses related to city commuting.

Looking at the urban landscape and densely populated cities around the world, the city of São Paulo, Brazil, has one of the largest fleets of helicopters within a city. Not surprisingly, the country has the most heliports in the region with around 13 [at last count by the CIA’s world fact book 2013].

UberCopter is looking to capitalise on the number of helicopters within the city by using them as a mode of transportation across the South American metropolis.

In Silicon Valley, Airbus Group is gearing up for the first prototype flight of its A^3, part of Project Vahana, which is a self-piloted aircraft (Vahana is Sanskrit for ‘that which carries, pulls’).

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In addition, the OEM’s CityAirbus project is a piloted multi-propeller aircraft that the company hopes will eventually see the aircraft become fully autonomous once legislation is passed.

Returning to Uber, the company is working in collaboration with rotary OEM Bell Helicopter on an ambitious flying taxi programme which it hopes to see test flights for in 2020.

Three years from now Uber is hopeful that by utilising Bell’s innovation knowledge and expertise it will have a VTOL aircraft to operate as a taxi service.

Bell Helicopter remains tighter lipped about the timelines at this stage. In a non-committal fashion, Scott Drennan, director of engineering innovation at Bell Helicopter, told me more about the deadlines and the project.

‘We are looking carefully at what we can and can’t do. Uber has put out some pretty aggressive timelines. Bell is looking at this from a safety perspective to ensure the aircraft can perform the missions,’ Drennan said.

At this stage, Bell Helicopter’s innovation team, which recently showcased the concept FCX-001, is looking at technologies that will adhere to Uber’s brief for urban transportation.

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Primarily, the team’s initial propulsion technology direction is anticipated to be centred around hybrid electric although this could evolve to fully electric.

Cities being looked at for an initial service are Dallas and Dubai. The former is no surprise being the home of Bell Helicopter.

‘We are both open to all urban environments… open to Dallas and Dubai… Dallas is our home turf, we know we have supportive mayors and we know we have lots of aerospace in the area.

‘We have communities that want to be leaders in technology and transportation. So, that’s a great choice for us as well,’ Drennan commented.

With a community that is so open to new aircraft technologies buzzing overhead, this surely provides a blank cheque for the OEM to experiment.

‘Uber is honest about the challenges. We agree with their list – autonomy and air traffic control certification, propulsion – these are all going to be unique challenges that of course Bell loves to face and matches our historical legacy of taking on transformative lift,’ Drennan commented.

He explained that in the development of the aircraft, low emissions are being considered while noise is a key parameter in its design.

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Along the supply chain, Lord Corporation, a manufacturer and developer of vibration, noise and motion control parts on helicopters and fixed-wing, interestingly rose the point about external noise in relation to the next-generation of rotorcraft and how this affects certain communities around the world.

‘With external noise, there is a sensitivity to that but I think we are seeing more of that in Europe than the US. Although there are signs that it is becoming an issue in the US. I believe tours were restricted in New York city – with issues also around the Grand Canyon,’ Scott Miller, marketing manager at Lord Corporation commented to me.

This point was further emphasised by a case in Denham, UK, where complaints were made about training helicopters in proximity to residential dwellings.

The overarching aim of all these projects is for accessible transportation in large urban environments and while noise regulations is not a forefront concern at this stage, with pedestrians already bombarded by road noise, the widespread appearance of VTOL commuters will likely become an issue.

IMDEX Asia: Singaporean Navy dominates the headlines

Shephard Media is currently busy reporting at the 11th edition of IMDEX Asia 2017 at the Changi Exhibition centre in Singapore.

What is already evident from this year’s show is that maritime security remains a growing sector for the Asia-Pacific region and this is being demonstrated by the wide range of exhibitors.

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The Republic of Singapore Navy is currently dominating the news stories on their home patch as they scout for a joint multimission ship to replace some of its older Endurance-class LSTs.

The service is celebrating its 50 year anniversary and has a warship display at the show demonstrative of its naval might.

On 15 May, Changi Naval Base had its name formally changed to RSS Singapura – Changi Naval Base. The Ministry of Defence said the name change, echoing the RSN’s first headquarters name, ‘will serve as a reminder to RSN personnel of the RSN’s heritage and vital role in defending Singapore’.

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This naval facility, located along a strategically important sea lane connecting the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, hosts more than 100 foreign warships each year.

Furthermore, another big headline at IMDEX Asia this week was the announcement that the navy will acquire an additional two Type 218SG diesel-electric submarines from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS).

This takes the total Type 218SG boats on order to four. The TKMS design was originally selected in November 2013, with an order for two and options for two more. The first pair of boats is already under construction at the company’s shipyard in Kiel, Germany, and will be delivered in 2020-21.

For more news from the show please see https://www.shephardmedia.com/show-news/imdex-asia-2017-show-news/

Bell-Uber taxi: How soon is now?

Uber, the taxi app company, is working in collaboration with rotary OEM Bell Helicopter on an ambitious flying taxi programme which it hopes to see test flights for in 2020.

Three years from now Uber are hopeful that utilising Bell’s innovation knowledge and expertise they will have an electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft to operate as a taxi service.

Bell Helicopter remain tighter lipped about the timelines at this stage. In a non-committal fashion, Scott Drennan, director of engineering innovation at Bell Helicopter told Quill or Capture more about the deadlines and the project.

‘We are looking carefully at what we can and can’t do. Uber has put out some pretty aggressive timelines. Bell is looking at this from a safety perspective to ensure the aircraft can perform the missions,’ Drennan said.

At this stage, Bell Helicopter’s innovation team, which recently showcased the concept aircraft the FCX-001, is looking at technologies that will adhere to Uber’s brief for urban transportation.

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Primarily, the team’s initial propulsion technology direction is anticipated to be centred around hybrid electric although this could evolve to fully electric.

Cities being looked at for an initial service are Dallas and Dubai. The former is no surprise being the home of Bell Helicopter.

‘We are both open to all urban environments… open to Dallas and Dubai… Dallas is our home turf, we know we have supportive mayors and we know we have lots of aerospace in the area.

‘We have communities that want to be leaders in technology and transportation. So, that’s a great choice for us as well,’ Drennan commented.

With a community that is so open to new aircraft technologies buzzing overhead, this surely provides a blank check for the OEM to experiment as this accessibility of aircraft contends with preempted complaints related to noise disturbances.

‘Uber is honest about the challenges. We agree with their list – autonomy and air traffic control certification, propulsion – these are all going to be unique challenges that of course Bell loves to face and matches our historical legacy of taking on transformative lift,’ he commented.

Drennan explained that in the development of the aircraft, low emissions are being considered and noise is a key parameter in its design.

From fiction to action

I recently met with Bell Helicopter’s design and engineering team about the aesthetics of their concept aircraft the FCX-001.

When looking at the aircraft it is easy to see elements seemingly influenced by film and TV such as Star Wars and Flight of the Navigator, and this was deliberate. The team told me how at the drawing board stage they went with their imaginations before the final design.

While Bell might be prioritising the technologies on board the FCX-001 over the platform itself; the capacity to experiment and play with designs brings excitement to an industry which has seemed gloomy in relation to the oil and gas market.

Levi Bilbrey, senior brand strategist at Bell Helicopter, explained further. ‘We are using virtual reality as an experimental tool for market as a design tool[and] looking at augmented reality as a pilot and a passenger experience. We are thinking that the cockpit of the future is going to be a heads-up display.’

Here at Quill we’ve had a bit of fun looking at the wider aerospace market and how sometimes art (in the loosest sense of the word) imitates life.

On AvGeek forums we have been wrestling with fellow enthusiasts over whether Thunderbird 2 resembles the KC-390 or the An-124. What do you think?

Heli-Expo 2017: The power of X and U

You never forget your first. This was my first Heli-Expo and it had full on X appeal. Firstly, the week started with the great reveal of the FCX-001 by Bell Helicopter.

The concept helicopter was inspired by company CEO Mitch Snyder’s push for innovation since assuming his role 18 months ago.

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The medium twin-sized helicopter has a strong emphasis on automated technologies on board to aid the pilot and passengers.

With a strong sci-fi influence on the design and lines of the aircraft, one of the main noticeable features is the anti-torque system embedded in the tail boom. Thus, there is no tail rotor but the capacity to open up the thrust vectoring through the capability.

MD Helicopters launched the next-generation of the MD500, the 6XX at last year’s Heli-Expo. This year was a confirmation that the aircraft was aiming to be ready by 2019 in either civil or military configuration.

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An interesting comparison between the two platforms is the influences from the automotive industry on the design.

Bell’s Scott Drennan, director of engineering innovation, told Shephard how the team behind the FCX-001 was inspired by the capacity for the car industry to experiment with conceptual technologies and vehicles.

Likewise, several features on board the 6XX, including the sliding door capability, were drawn from MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton’s experience at Dura Automotive Systems.

An underlying, and perhaps understated, theme running through the show was unmanned vehicles. President and CEO of Helicopter Association International, Matt Zuccaro described the prominence of UAVs and how they will change how the industry does business – with a particular emphasis on the safety narrative.

Aircraft tracking company Spidertracks hatched upon a popular promotion during the show – giving away a trip to New Zealand to one lucky purchaser of its products.

Furthermore, Shephard witnessed the showcasing of Vertivue’s Skybox stabilised camera system.

The Skybox allows gimballed camera systems developed for small UAVs to be effectively integrated on the nose of a helicopter, at a drastically reduced cost to the installation of a more complex gimballed system developed specifically for larger aircraft.

While the footfall may not have been as impressive as previous years, with over 70 helicopters on display including six civil configured Black Hawks – what can be learnt from the show is there is optimism in whirlybirds after the oil and gas price woes. This year’s focus was about optimism and not orders.

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For all the news and videos from the week take a look at our coverage on the Shephard website.

Heli-Expo 2017: Show highlights from Shephard Media on Vimeo.

Heli-Expo 2017: Shephard hits town

The Shephard team arrived in Dallas, Texas on Saturday night for a week of helicopter excitement at Heli-Expo 2017.

After some steaks, birthday cake and a good night sleep, the team went out and about to explore.

For the rest of the show we are hard at work bringing you all the latest helicopter news. Keep an eye on our show news site for updates through out the week.

For now enjoy the behind the scenes video:

Heli-Expo 2017: Here we go

This year Heli-Expo will be in Dallas, Texas. With more than 60 aircraft expected to be on display and over 700 international exhibitors – the show is looking to be as big and bold as ever.

The health of the oil and gas sector is sure to be part of the narrative of the show although there is a quiet optimism that is expected to resonate around the exhibition hall all along the supply chain.

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A buzzword which is bound to be flying around is innovation. Although it’s obviously not a new term or a surprising one, it does indicate what the larger companies have been up to during the economic downturn in the commercial helicopter market.

The usual faces will be there, in the form of the major OEMs, with Bell promising a ‘new look’.

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The company will be displaying its Bell 525 Relentless VVIP MAGnificent, Bell 429, Bell 407 GXP, along with the newly-certified Bell 505 Jet Ranger X.

Airbus Helicopters will have their H175, H145, H135, and H130 on display at HAI with H160 virtual experience. The H160 is anticipated to receive certification next year.

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The show will again be a hub of innovation, new products and upgraded platforms. Announcements are expected from the lessors to supplies, and won’t just be exclusive to the larger manufacturers.

Leonardo, MD Helicopters, Heli-One, Universal Avionics, Honeywell, Waypoint Leasing are just some of the names that have confirmed their presence at the event.

The real mark of success for Heli-Expo 2017 will be dictated by the deals, orders and sales as the market climbs out of a low, the show will hopefully be indicative of the forthcoming rise.

Shephard will be at Heli-Expo 2017 see our show news site for all the latest news and videos direct from Dallas.

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