Bell Helicopter envisions the future of rotorcraft

Departments - Checking In

April 12, 2017

At Heli-Expo 2017 in Dallas, Texas, Textron Inc. company Bell Helicopter unveiled its FCX-001 concept vehicle. Like an auto show concept car, the notional aircraft presents ideas for delivering safer, smarter, and more efficient rotorcraft.

Bell Helicopter’s President and CEO Mitch Snyder says, “Six months ago we created a dedicated team to focus on emerging technologies and how we could incorporate them into our products.”

The team set out to display visually the technologies and innovations the company envisions bringing to market, not a mockup of a planned production helicopter.

Engineers and graphic designers addressed evolving customer demands to demonstrate technologies that could enhance the pilot and passenger experience, including:

  • A safer, quieter, better-performing anti-torque system in the tail boom
  • Hybridized propulsion: turbine engine main propulsion, electric distribution and motors for the anti-torque system
  • An airframe made from advanced, sustainable materials incorporating an energy management system
  • Landing gear with non-traditional geometries, advanced materials, and actuation
  • Morphing rotor blades to optimize performance in different flight regimes
  • Single-pilot controls using augmented reality and artificial intelligence
  • Modular cabin with augmented reality technology for passenger infotainment, video conferences

“The FCX-001 points the way for our future – a renewed focus on innovative solutions,” Snyder says. www.textron.com; www.bellhelicopter.com

Lockheed Martin, Brigham Young University, 3D research

Lockheed Martin and Brigham Young University (BYU) are collaborating to apply gaming technology for engineering purposes – users interact with, record, and share engineering designs in virtual reality.

A research grant awarded to the BYU Department of Mechanical Engineering will develop aspects of a virtual reality (VR) training and design review system that will advance Lockheed Martin’s digital engineering capabilities. BYU engineering student and Lockheed Martin intern Jeffery Smith helped facilitate a virtual reality research partnership between the company’s Collaborative Human Immersive Lab (CHIL) and BYU.

“The BYU students created an impressive demo of the VR system that really highlights the potential of this technology, even in its early stages,” says Darin Bolthouse, manager of Lockheed Martin’s CHIL in Denver, Colorado.

The system will leverage immersive three-dimensional technology for design efficiency, collaboration, and training and will allow the company to identify potential challenges during development before they manifest in the manufacturing or sustainment process. Ultimately, VR engineering saves millions of dollars by avoiding extra design and build time.

The program’s initial research period concluded last month. Lockheed Martin and BYU are discussing options to continue the virtual reality research partnership and to pursue additive manufacturing research opportunities. www.lockheedmartin.com/digitaltapestry

Alliance formed for hybrid/electric vertical takeoff airplane

Officials from XTI Aircraft Co. (XTI) and Bye Aerospace Inc. (Bye) have agreed to develop a hybrid/electric prototype of XTI’s TriFan vertical takeoff airplane.

“We’re continuing with our plan,” says Robert J. LaBelle, XTI’s CEO. “But we’ve made two important changes. First, the first prototype will be powered by a state-of-the-art hybrid-electric propulsion system. Second, because we’re now able to significantly reduce the weight and cost of producing the TriFan, our first prototype will be a full-size TriFan 600 instead of the 65% subscale version.”

LaBelle further explains that they are replacing the transmission, gears, two large heavier engines, and other components with electric motors, batteries, generators, and a single, smaller turboshaft engine.

“Advanced electric power for aircraft makes the hybrid-electric configuration compelling for the TriFan,” adds George Bye, founder, chairman and CEO of Bye Aerospace. www.byeaerospace.com; www.xtiaircraft.com

Smithers Quality Assessments’ AS9100:2016 accreditation

Smithers Quality Assessments (SQA) received accreditation from ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) for AS9100:2016.

AS9100 is based on the ISO 9001 quality system requirements with additional features unique to the aerospace industry that help satisfy criteria required by key aerospace stakeholders such as the Department of Defense (DoD), NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Changes to the ISO 9001:2015 standard and the need to clarify some specific points for aviation, space, and defense (ASD) stakeholders prompted release of the AS9100:2016 version, which then required SQA and all other certification bodies to be accredited for the revised standard.

With AS9100:2016 accreditation in place, transitional audit planning for all SQA clients is already underway – ahead of the June 2017 deadline for all audits to be performed using the AS9100:2016 requirements. www.smithersregistrar.com

Advanced Ceramic Coatings to open facility in South Carolina

North Carolina-based Advanced Ceramic Coatings (ACC), a joint venture between Ohio-based GE Aviation and Turbocoating Corp. of Italy, will build a 62,500ft2 facility at Hillside Enterprise Park in Duncan, South Carolina. GE and Turbocoating will invest more than $15 million and employ about 50 people by 2022.

Expected to open by Q3 2017, the plant will produce thermal barrier coatings for GE’s high-temperature ceramic matrix composite (CMC) components in the hot, high-pressure turbine section of LEAP and GE9X jet engines. The company anticipates it will begin hiring for the new positions during Q2 2017.

ACC was formed in 2014 to create a supply chain that would allow it to produce more CMCs, made of silicon carbide ceramic fibers and ceramic matrix, enhanced with proprietary coatings, making them lighter and more heat resistant than metal alloys. Thermal barrier coatings are applied to metallic jet-engine parts in 100µm to 2mm layers for exhaust heat management. www.turbocoating.com; www.geaviation.com