Bell Nexus VTOL Air Taxi Makes A Splash At 2019 Consumer Electronics Show

The Consumer Electronics Show,

held in Las Vegas every January, has long been the launching pad for the hottest, and coolest, consumer electronics concepts for the coming year. The biggest and brightest televisions, the loudest music players, the sharpest cameras, and handheld travel, health, fitness and information devices have all debuted in the desert.

This year a new vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) vehicle from Bell (formerly Bell Helicopter) landed at the show with a flourish. Named Bell Nexus, the full-scale black, six-rotor vehicle attracted quite a crowd of gawkers.  Bell describes Nexus as "the nexus of transport and technology and of comfort and convenience." Designed as a four-passenger air taxi for the E-VTOL (electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing) market that's predicted to appear in the next five years, the craft looks like an all-black cross between a V-22 Osprey (also a Bell product) and a giant drone. The Osprey, which has had its share of fatal crashes, recently essentially got a Presidential 'seal of approval', as Melania Trump was the first First Lady to fly in a V-22 and land on an aircraft carrier.

As for the Nexus, power will be provided by a hybrid-electric propulsion system, with a gas turbine engine to drive the electric rotors. The craft features Bell’s powered lift concept, incorporating six 8-foot tilting ducted fans that allow Nexus to smoothly transition from vertical liftoff to horizontal flight. Bell spokespeople  said the craft will initially be piloted, but like autonomous automobile, may eventually operate in robo-mode. Nexus will fit on a typical 40-foot by 40-foot helicopter landing pad, so the craft should be able to land on existing helipads.

Does it fly? Bell said at the show that the Nexus on display is a non-flying mock-up, but a real one is reportedly under way at Bell headquarters in Texas, with flight testing said to start in 2023 . The Nexus is said to weigh 6500 pounds, and Bell representatives told Engadget the craft will have range of 150 miles and be able to fly that far in an hour. More specific questions on speed, range, climb, maximum and operating altitude were not addressed at CES.  The electric rotors will hopefully prove quieter than the familiar "whomp-whomp-whomp" of today's helicopters.

A number of other manufacturers big and small are working on hybrid-electric copters or VTOL craft, including the developers of the SureFly and the upcoming automated Airbus eVTOL entry, the Vahana.