This is Bell Nexus, the “air taxi” concept from the company formerly known as Bell Helicopter. A hybrid-electric propulsion aircraft, the Nexus will use six tilting ducted fans to take off and land vertically from a rooftop or launchpad. And more importantly, you may be able to hail one for a crosstown trip using Uber’s new aerial service in the not-too-distant future.
Air taxis, or flying cars if you’re feeling saucy, are enjoying an upswing in popularity, and the Fort Worth, Texas-based Bell is hoping to seize the moment. The company rebranded itself last year as a technology company, after decades as one of the top manufacturers of commercial and military vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. (It produces both the V-22 Osprey and the forthcoming V-280 Valor.) It now wants to make electric VTOL (eVTOL) aircraft, with the Nexus as its first foray into that futuristic market.
Bell was one of the first aircraft manufacturers to team up with Uber in 2017, when the ride-hailing company first released its ambitious plan to create a network of city-based flying taxis as a way to alleviate street-level traffic. Since then, Bell has been hard at work on its own design, and at CES this week, it pulled back the curtain on its first concept.
Bell is aiming to have the Nexus in flight over a handful of major markets by the “mid-2020s,” said Scott Drennan, director of innovation at Bell. He argued that the key element about the aircraft was its “approachability,” which makes it the ideal vehicle for this proposed flying taxi service.
“This is not a toy,” Drennan told The Verge. “This is an aircraft you would feel safe and comfortable bringing your family into.” The large ducts hide the rotors, which should help ease any anxiety from customers about losing a limb from its fast-spinning blades. In other words, “for people who aren’t accustomed to VTOL type aircraft,” Drennan said — which, arguably, is everyone who doesn’t regularly commute via helicopter.
That’s not to say flying cars aren’t having a moment: at least 19 companies are developing flying-car plans. These include legacy manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus, and small startups like Kitty Hawk, owned by Google founder Larry Page. Meanwhile, Uber has made significant strides in partnering with a handful of aircraft manufacturers, real estate firms, and regulators to better its chances of developing a fully functional, on-demand flying taxi service.