Our board of recommendation advises us on strategic issues which are in the interest of the sector, the general public and Amsterdam Drone Week. This week we spoke to Scott Drennan, Vice President of Bell’s Innovation Team. He shares his vision on the future of the UAS industry.
Amsterdam Drone Week: Can you shortly introduce yourself and the Bell Innovation department within Bell specifically?
Scott Drennan: I joined Bell in 1993 on the V-22 program after receiving a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland and working as a co-op student at GE Aircraft Engines in Cincinnati. I also have a Master of Liberal Arts from Southern Methodist University. I’ve spent most of my career focused on tiltrotors and other power-lift vehicle technologies. I am proud to carry on Bell’s rich tradition of innovation. Our team’s mission is to radically innovate technologies and aircraft configurations to create novel and coveted vehicle lift experiences. We are a team purpose-built to illuminate the future for our core commercial and military businesses. We do this by departing from past practices and principals, never fearing to disrupt our industry or our own traditional business models to secure our place as technology leaders in a dynamic marketplace.
Amsterdam Drone Week: What is your vision when it comes to the UAS and UAM industry developments, between now and the next 5 years?
Scott Drennan: Diverse UAS configurations and technologies, as well as, standardized operational models for UAS in the National Airspace (NAS) form the backbone of one of the most exciting revolutions in aerospace history. The future of our industry, both in the commercial and military sectors, will be defined by our ability to design and deploy these technologies. Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is one of the most exciting opportunities in this category. We are actively exploring opportunities for on-demand air transportation with autonomous, more electric and hybrid-electric distributed propulsion VTOL aircraft to fulfill the UAM mission. The concept of air mobility is nothing new; we have been moving people and things over urban obstacles for decades with traditional rotorcraft. What is new is the emergence and development of technologies that enable safe, quiet, efficient, affordable urban air operations at scale, using smaller, heavily automated electric and hybrid-electric vertical lift aircraft.
Our vision of UAM complements and extends to a broader, multi-modal transportation ecosystem. Rather than focusing on just the VTOL aircraft themselves, it is important to first define the operational requirements they must meet, as well as the transportation network they will operate within. Defining and developing UAM solutions is a complex undertaking, requiring coordination and collaboration across industries, regulatory agencies and other communities of interest. Establishing broad agreement on the requirements, standards and regulations of Urban Mobility will accelerate the path to unlocking the benefits of aviation for all of us and, ultimately, the reshaping of our urban environments.
The integrated frameworks that enable UAM also enable numerous other on-demand mobility applications. Autonomous, electric or hybrid-electric, distributed-propulsion VTOL aircraft could serve many roles across many industries, including 3PL and retail logistics, as well as first responder support for search and rescue, medical transport, disaster relief and more. Bell is actively developing a family of vehicles called Autonomous Pod Transport (APT). While we envision this VTOL transport aircraft as a tail sitter – a different configuration and mode of operation than our current air taxi concepts – we see many opportunities for shared technology development, including distributed propulsion systems, quiet, efficient rotor systems and autonomous flight control systems.
There is still a lot of work to be done to create a viable UAM network, but we believe the future is real and coming soon to a neighborhood near you.
Amsterdam Drone Week: What are your short and long term goals in terms of bringing Urban Mobility to new dimensions?
Scott Drennan: We believe the real solutions to the future of Urban Mobility lie not in the two-dimensional world of roads, buses, and other traditional options, but in new frameworks and partnerships based on multi-faceted ways of thinking about the possibilities. Significant work is pushing forward on many fronts and with many public and private partners, including the FAA, EASA, NASA, Safran and Uber. Bell is focused on four integrated frameworks that will help define the UAM model:
• Operational – defining the necessary deployment requirements for urban air mobility mobility (UAM)
• Regulatory – partnering with agencies to establish a holistic regulatory and certification approach for the type design, the production and the continued airworthiness of the vehicle systems
• Manufacturing – developing approaches to maximize quality and safety and minimize cost and weight
• Technology – developing the technologies that will enable a new era of flight
Accomplishing these frameworks collectively, will ensure our success.