By now, you've most likely heard of the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that are being developed to power a future of flying taxis.
Now, a new type of VTOL aircraft is on the scene: the high-speed VTOL or HSVTOL. An early iteration comes from U.S. aviation pioneer Bell, which just revealed a new series of concepts showcasing the technology.
A future of high-speed VTOL aircraft
The main difference between eVTOL and HSVTOL aircraft is that, after vertical takeoff, the latter uses turbofans to reach speeds and ranges closer to those of a fighter aircraft, while the former is currently limited in range by the battery technology on which it relies. The concept aircraft presented by Bell range in size from 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg) to 100,000 pounds (45,360 kg) and they are all designed to fly autonomously.
Bell's HSVTOL project was partially inspired by its own V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, which it developed in collaboration with Boeing, as well as its V-280 Valor (shown in the video below). That aircraft also inspired another similar tiltrotor machine, the Leonardo AW609, which was on show at the Dubai Air Show this month.
In its statement, Bell claims that its HSVTOL aircraft can reach speeds of 460 mph (740 km/h). Though it is yet to provide any specific range figures, it does give a very rough indication by pointing out that the V-22 Osprey "had a cruise speed and range twice that of helicopters it replaced."
The aviation firm also says the aircraft will provide "enhanced runway independence, aircraft survivability, mission flexibility and enhanced performance over legacy platforms." It also states that "the convergence of tiltrotor aircraft capabilities, digital flight control advancements and emerging propulsion technologies" will "evolve HSVTOL technology for modern military missions to serve the next generation of warfighters."
'A step change improvement in rotorcraft capabilities'
Bell is developing the HSVTOL aircraft concepts as part of a U.S. Air Force program aimed at accelerating innovations for military aircraft. The firm's proposal was named as one of 35 finalists for that program, which will provide funding to further develop those concepts. "Bell's HSVTOL technology is a step change improvement in rotorcraft capabilities," Jason Hurst, vice president of Innovation at Bell, said in the company's statement.
"Our technology investments have reduced risk and prepared us for rapid development of HSVTOL in a digital engineering environment, leveraging experience from a robust past of technology exploration and close partnerships with the Department of Defense and Research Laboratories," Hurst continued.
Bell points to its strong track record in aviation technology development to suggest that it will be able to rapidly develop these high-speed aircraft. It's worth noting though that HSVTOL aircraft are very much in the concept stage, and their development embodies a complex technological step on from flying taxis, which are yet to take to the skies. Before Bell's concepts become a reality, we will likely have to see if company's such as flying taxi firm Volocopter can keep to their promise of launching their commercial services as soon as 2024.