Bell’s latest designs, unveiled on Monday, are hybrid flying machines that promise to take off and land like helicopters while still zooming around at high speeds like jets.
A small, autonomous fighter-jet-like airplane that could land like a helicopter, pick someone up, and then whisk them away is one of the three new ideas.
These are simply ideas, so there’s no guarantee they’ll become reality. Still,
The concepts are intriguing because of what they suggest about the future of military aircraft, possibly in the 2030s.
This is everything you need to know about these futuristic flying machines.
Tilt-rotors, aircraft, and helicopters
There are a few different types of aircraft. Fixed-wing aircraft include everything from a modest Cessna to a massive Boeing 747.
To provide propulsion, they use propellers or jet engines. To take off and land, they require runways.
Then there are helicopters, which have incredible agility, such as the ability to take off and land vertically.
and can hover in situ to perform tasks like rescuing someone from the sea. Consider the top rotor of a whirlybird to be a spinning wing.
Tilt-rotor aircraft, such as the V-22 Osprey and the V-280 Valor, fall into a different category.
The former is in service with the Marines, while the latter is a contender to replace the Army’s Black Hawk helicopter.
These planes have fixed wings, but the rotors—one on each wing—can rotate to allow them to take off like a helicopter but then fly fast through the air, similar to a typical propeller plane.
Combining aircraft types to create a new type of aircraft
The new Bell designs combine these two types of aircraft, combining a tilt-rotor with a jet.
Not only would they resemble helicopters, but they might also be extremely quick. (The F-35B is a craft with a skill set that is similar.)
According to Jeff Nissen, a senior manager for advanced technologies at Bell, “They take modern tilt-rotor technology as their base capability.”
“And what we’re doing with these planes is adding propulsion technology, or rotor technology, to allow them to fly at a higher level.”
These boats would be faster and have a greater range than a tilt-rotor; nevertheless, tilt-rotors already outperform conventional helicopters in both areas.
The new designs may theoretically reach speeds of around 460 mph, while a tiltrotor like the V-280 has only reached speeds of around 345 mph.
High-speed vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or HSVTOLs, are named for their speed.
Bell intends to achieve these high speeds and helicopter-like qualities by combining various design options.
Part of the trick includes the rotors themselves, which can already alter direction depending on whether the helicopter is taking off or flying forward regularly.
The rotors on these new machines, on the other hand, would change their position once again: by ceasing spinning and folding back flat.
“They’re tucked in,” he continues, implying that they’d lie against the nacelles to which they’re linked.
If you look closely at the image above, you’ll notice that each idea plane has nacelles at the tips of its wings, with unmoving rotors folding down upon them.
(Of course, adding those extra moves—folding the rotors back and engaging the jet power—additionally complicates the machine and increases the chances of failure.)
The craft is now powered by jet engines after the rotors are folded back flat.
“To stay in the air, we need jet thrust,” adds Nissen.
All of this means that the new designs seem like the result of combining a helicopter, a tilt-rotor aircraft, and a fighter jet in a massive mixer.
Nissen claims that if the new contraptions had a bumper sticker, it would read “speed that a tiltrotor can’t attain.”
The missions that these high-speed VTOLs could do
These military crafts are available in three sizes, according to the photograph published by Bell. In the bottom right, there’s a light or small machine; in the middle, there’s a medium-sized machine; and up top, there’s a giant machine.
The little vehicle would be autonomous, similar to one of the drones the Air Force could utilize in its Skyborg program, as it would not have a pilot.
This unmanned aircraft may conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations as well as carry out weapons deployments.
The most intriguing application, according to Bell, is that it could pick someone up and save them.
Despite the lack of a pilot, Nissen claims that the ship could still hold “a couple” of people.
That implies it could theoretically fly somewhere, land vertically without a runway, and allow someone to board, such as a shot-down pilot. He explains, “It turns up, and it’s a robot there to pick you up.”
The other two concepts, according to Nissen, are “more traditional” and built to be flown by people.
(Keep in mind that these designs may never leave the drawing board and travel to the skies.) The largest would be the size of a V-22 Osprey.
The little craft would be around 57 feet long and 84 feet broad, and the larger craft would be about the size of an Osprey.
That largest one would transport “a lot of goods” and “go places they shouldn’t,” according to Nissen.