Redefining the Experience of Flight with Bell [PODCAST]



  • Michael Thacker, EVP of Technology and Innovation, Bell
  • Mark Moore, Engineering Director of Aviation, Uber
  • Jean-Baptiste Jarin, Safran Helicopter Engines Vice President, Hybrid Propulsion System Program


This special edition of CES Tech-Talk is brought to you by Bell. Bell is developing new concepts of mobility to make moving people and products more efficient and effective and redefining the experience of flight. Hey everybody. We are the owner and producer of CES the most influential tech events on the planet. We are getting you all geared up to make sure you are CES ready in 2019. The show is not far off. January 8 to 11th in Las Vegas. Well this you know if you've been to CES and if all you've done is listen to our podcasts you probably heard these topics yourself but CES is the location for innovation for what's next. It's a global stage for innovation in the technologies of today and tomorrow. That includes self driving vehicles that includes drones and even the sharing economy is represented there at CES. But today's topic envelops all three of these self driving vehicles, drones, and the sharing economy. And when you put them all together the equation adds up to air taxis. Yeah. Pause and think about that. These are very close to becoming realities and solving transportation problems across the country and probably across the world too. So this week we are talking to an aviation pioneer.

M. Thacker [2:50]: "Since Bell is a traditional I would say aviation company it has been been in the industry for so long. We're all right now in terms of aviation and transportation with technology mixed in.: So I would say we're at an inflection point. And while Bell is a traditional aviation company we've been innovating the way people fly for over 80 years so a history of innovation and I think much like the dawning of the jet age we're at an inflection point where the convergence of technology and societal norms are coming together in a way that's going to change the way people move particularly moving about cities."

M. Thacker [6:40]: "In terms of public acceptance of the technology. I don't see it as being a huge leap and as automotive in many other industries have been moving towards electrification aircraft has had as well. It's been in systems and now we're moving into that for full propulsion. I don't think that'll be a huge leap for people to overcome. And Bell has been making things fly for years and we've been making things take off and land vertically and move on to wing and fly rapidly and forward flight with things like the V22 tilt rotor for decades as well. So with the the focus of this team and the experience that we have together I don't have any concerns about the ability to get the public to step on the aircraft to take the flight."

Q: What is the common ground that you all have. And also the unique perspectives that your respective companies bring to this partnership?

M. Thacker [7:40]: "What I'll start I think please Mike you know the the first thing is we have a shared vision for what mobility can be in cities and the idea that this On-Demand society whether it's package delivery or the ability to move across town is an opportunity for both of us. And Mark mentioned earlier we have kind of complimentary expertise. We know how to make things fly. We know how to operate them we know how to do it safely we know how to deal with regulators and to be able to work through the aviation system and hold those high expectations. Uber has a great experience in their in their short history of being able to create this ride sharing market and this on demand transportation system and the two of them will marry together very nicely."

Q: What about a temperature check of where we are right now as you mentioned before the idea of an air taxi is a game changer I think for a lot of people to even conceive much less envision ride sharing tech enabled ride sharing was disruptive innovation at its peak in some senses when Uber hit mass market. Where are we right now.

M. Thacker [9:20]: "I think technologies to enable this transformation of flight exists today. The integration of those the regulatory framework the operational framework to be able to bring them to market is still a work in progress. So we're integrating the technologies into vehicles which will be capable of performing the mission that we've described taking people across town doing so safely vertical takeoff and landing. We're working with regulators and communities to get the regulatory framework and public acceptance to be able to move to that next step which is carrying people across town in commercial service. And our expectation is that will happen in the mid 2020. We think it's that close."

Q: Michael I love this language that the company uses you refer to flying cars as I'm quoting here shorthand for a just out of reach future. So the simple question is are they in their in our grasp and you would say by 2023. Yes but take that as a larger concept and exactly what this represents to us as a society accepting these rapid fire tech innovations.

M. Thacker [12:40]: "So I really think society part of what makes this the perfect time is that society is ready. We already talked about the change in expectations of people today with regard to on demand whether it's getting your package delivered the same day or being able to call an Uber and have your car arrive and take you to your destination within a couple of minutes. And to be able to choose what level of transportation you want who your driver is to be able to make all those matches. So the expectation of an On-Demand society is already there. The adding of the third dimension has become critical because we also have a trend of urbanization more and more people moving into urban centers which makes the congestion in cities like the one I live in Dallas and Fort Worth getting more and more congested and more and more time that people spend in traffic more and more time that your packages spend in transit. And we're losing billions of dollars in economic cost as well as the personal time that you and I give up with our families and others as we go about the business of our day. So I think realistically we can be ready for this because it solves a critical challenge that we have. One of the elements that will be critical for that is the accessibility of it. So you and I can take advantage of and so to make this work we have to get to scale. We have to get to the point where it isn't just a few people in a few very expensive aircraft flying across town and taking advantage of this it has to be something that's within reach of you and being able to use and have it benefit our lives. And with what we're doing and the approach we're taking we can get there."

Q: Now Michael apologize in advance for asking some such a deep engineering background about some policy issues especially around infrastructure. But that is a consideration for what what we will see with air taxis and that's an area where innovation runs into speed bumps?

M. Thacker [23:00]: "So the regulatory piece is certainly a place infrastructure is another one that's going to be a critical element of making the system work. But Mark hit on it a little bit earlier with this pathway dependent idea of ground transportation if you think about infrastructure and what it takes to put a node onto our system. It's a Vertiport airport it's the size of potentially a parking lot or the top of a building and it's in a single location. To add infrastructure that's on rail or a highway or even Hyperloop means you're taking out miles of pathway through somebody's neighborhood through somebody's business you're disrupting lives and livelihoods to be able to create this new transportation infrastructure."

[24:00]: "And then beyond that you know Mark talked a little bit about the pooling concept from an efficiency standpoint but there's also an efficiency to be gained by making the vehicles the right way. If we can optimize the vehicles to make sure that they can turn around in five minutes so that you can have fewer vehicles serving the same population of communities and still manage to serve all of the the business that's being requested then that's another efficiency in the system in terms of maintenance costs in terms of asset needs. So there are a huge number of opportunities for this to be a highly efficient system and to be more efficient on the ground systems we have today."

Q: The issue of turnaround as you said when we're involved in ride sharing you don't think of any and you don't think twice of being dropped off in a car and that car maybe picking someone else up at the very same restaurant the very same building. But there is a turnaround time that is necessary inherently with helicopters today. Where are we right now in terms of what's required?

M. Thacker [25:15]: "So again if you think about the existing aviation system and the turnaround you have post-flight check of pre-flight checks you have a walk around of the vehicle you have to make sure that the propulsion system is ready to refire again and in some turbine based systems you've got to wait time before you can relight an engine that's been turned off. And so again by architecture the system so it's incredibly reliable that it goes through post and pre-flight checks in an automated way on its own to identify if there are any issues that would cause it not to be able to fly. Those are ways that you optimize the system to be able to get that five minute turnaround."

Q: Let's talk about 2019 because this sector incorporates two of my favorite aspects of the show. One is you never know what you're going to see next and the other is there's so much innovation that at least for those of us outside the engineering and coding sector may not have even conceived. What is your place at CES?

M. Thacker [27:00]: "Yes so we were excited last year to be a part of the urban mobility haul. Obviously it was mostly automotive and people talking about automating vehicles. Exactly. We were very excited to come in and let people know there is a third dimension that can make your life better. So we shared an air Bell Air Taxi experience allowing people to virtually understand what an air taxi could do for them how it could relate to their life and be integrated into their life and bring benefit to them. This year will bring a little bit more obviously we have our partners from Safran here with us today so we'll be sharing a little bit more about how the aircraft is going to fly the propulsion system and take it to the next step to help people understand how we're going to make it a reality for them in the near future."

[28:50]: "You know you mentioned the consumer but it's also a great opportunity to engage with communities. You mentioned smart cities and how this plays into the idea of greener cleaner more mobile cities more interactive cities. And there's a huge contingent of folks at CBS who are absolutely focused on what does a smart city really look like. So it's a great opportunity for us to interplay with the rest of what's going on in that technology community to help people understand what their options really are and that it's much wider open than they think in terms of the mobility solutions that can be brought to the city to help get to that to achieve that goal."

About Bell

Thinking above and beyond is what we do. For more than 80 years, we’ve been reimagining the experience of flight – and where it can take us.

We are pioneers. We were the first to break the sound barrier and to certify a commercial helicopter. We were a part of NASA’s first lunar mission and brought advanced tiltrotor systems to market. Today, we’re defining the future of on-demand mobility.

Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas – as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Textron Inc., – we have strategic locations around the globe. And with nearly one quarter of our workforce having served, helping our military achieve their missions is a passion of ours.

Above all, our breakthrough innovations deliver exceptional experiences to our customers. Efficiently. Reliably. And always, with safety at the forefront.

About Textron

Textron Inc. is a multi-industry company that leverages its global network of aircraft, defense, industrial and finance businesses to provide customers with innovative solutions and services. Textron is known around the world for its powerful brands such as Bell, Cessna, Beechcraft, Hawker, Jacobsen, Kautex, Lycoming, E-Z-GO, Arctic Cat, Textron Systems, and TRU Simulation + Training. For more information, visit:

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