By Woodrow Bellamy III | February 22, 2018
Bell Helicopter no longer exists. Now there is only Bell, as the rotorcraft industry giant has unveiled a new logo, new name and a new focus on being a technology company that will re-define the concept of flight.
Bell CEO Mitch Snyder told reporters during a conference call Thursday that the change is more than just a new name and logo. Snyder said that a key element of the new Bell is symbolized by the centerpiece of its new red shield logo, the dragonfly — a species that has been around for hundreds of years, and is constantly evolving that way that it flies.
“The word helicopter was very confining. The fact is, we’re not a helicopter company, we’re not a tiltrotor company, we’re a tech company re-defining flight,” said Snyder. “The dragonfly is always evolving and getting better than it’s been, that’s a great symbol for us, it has mastered flight and that’s what we’re trying to do. It represents what we’re going to be in the future."
The name change is something Snyder said he’d been thinking about since first stepping into his role as chief executive in 2015.
In discussions with members of the military, for example, Snyder said that they viewed Bell as the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor company. That helped guide his thinking strategically that Bell really is not a helicopter company, and he does not see it as a tiltrotor company, either.
The move toward the name change intensified in 2017, as Bell stood up a new innovation division, unveiled a futuristic composite airframe demonstrator aircraft with morphing blades, created the Hydra drone to study future unmanned/manned flight control laws and flew the V-280 for the first time.
Another innovation is Bell's new air taxi cabin, unveiled at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The innovation team had already started working with FAA officials on future certification and regulation for a future automated air taxi aircraft.
Snyder provided some more insight on Bell’s strategy to make the air taxi a reality.
“From a big picture — Michael Thacker, he is constantly meeting with FAA on this. They’re helping us figure out how we would certify it," said Snyder. "When you think about the air taxi and what it will be, we’re not going to start off with full electric, we’re starting out with a hybrid."
While there are still many unknowns about what a future air taxi would look like, how it would be maintained, where it would land and how to make such an operation economical for passengers, Bell is very serious about launching an air taxi product in the near future.
When asked what will be some of the major themes in focus for Bell at Heli-Expo this year, Snyder said the “air taxi is going to be the centerpiece.”
There will be a variety of missions that the future air taxi can provide as well, Snyder said, both for military and commercial purposes.
“We’ve said air taxi a lot today, but really what we’re creating is on-demand mobility. And within on-demand mobility, it can be people-movers or logistics-movers. When we look at it, for example with logistics, it will have applications to the commercial side of the business and applications to the military side,” said Snyder.
The name change does not mean that Bell will not be designing, certifying and selling helicopters in the future, though.
Snyder gave an update on the 525 program, which currently has three aircraft flight testing toward certification, with more details to be released at Heli-Expo. The V-280 is also “flying well at Amarillo,” Snyder said.
Snyder reiterated a message that was emblazoned across the company’s booth at Heli-Expo 2017 in Dallas — that Bell would like to see avionics that function more like smartphones. The Bell chief said he’d like to see future Bell cockpits looking more like the iPhone, “where you have apps and you can continually add new capabilities.”
“When you create flight, the automation and flight controls and the aerodynamics of the aircraft tend not to be in harmony together. We’re also moving out on rapid prototyping ourselves,” said Snyder.