Bell’s Helicopter unveiled their latest flying vehicle in March 2017 at the Heli-Expo in Dallas, Texas. Known as the FCX-001, it includes the latest advancements in flight technology. The advanced airframe design is constructed from sustainable materials, which will provide increased structural performance and can be adapted to suit different clients. They will also provide enhanced visibility, as well as a larger area for those that occupy the helicopter. The vehicle’s frame is its frontline for energy management where external energy, or unused system energy, is harvested, stored and distributed.
The FCX-001 is set to run on hybrid power, which will combine thermal engine cores with electric distribution and motors to drive the anti-torque system. This will allow for better control, simpler operations and less maintenance. In addition, the system’s flight control is operated via three separate and independent computers. During a journey, the system evaluates and calculates the optimal method to process the digital orders that the pilot has provided. This ensures that the aircraft will not be compromised during flight, and is supported by extra redundancy. The anti-torque system within the aircraft, is also designed to improve safety conditions, and monitor noise levels and performance parameters. It is embedded in the tail boom, and uses thrust vectoring control capability.
The company has been researching ways of applying morphing technology to different areas of flight, for an extended period. In the FCX-001, the morphing rotor blades have been designed so that the aircraft will be able to optimise its performance under different flight conditions. Individual morphing technologies were applied such as blades, inlets and aerodynamic surfaces, through advanced actuation, materials or a combination of both. The helicopter also has futuristic landing gear on board, which has been designed using non-traditional geometric structures. This will combine with its advanced building material to facilitate an increased function. The use of actuation was also applied to improve the vehicle’s manoeuvring capabilities, as well as absorb the landing energy for improved safety and comfort in ground operations.
Another area that the company focused on when designing the FCX-001 was the gradual transition to autonomous vehicles that is currently taking place. The cockpit is equipped with a single pilot seat, and the Multi Functional Display removed to enhance the pilot’s visibility during flights. The aircraft will be controlled using augmented reality and an artificial intelligence computer system. The pilot will be able to control the vehicle’s safety and the direction of the mission, while the computer operates as a co-pilot. This is a necessary step in moving over to include a fully autonomous pilot system in these aircrafts. As well as the pilot’s area, the cabin is enhanced with a flooring system which allows for seating changes to accommodate various passengers or cargo. It also contains fully customisable LED lighting and pop-down air ventilation systems, which will help to increase passengers’ comfort.