January 27, 2021
Bell advances EDAT system out of Quebec
Bell Textron Canada at the virtual International Aerospace Innovation Forum, hosted by Aéro Montreal on December 14, 2020, held the first public display of its Electrically Distributed Anti-Torque system – “an unconventional tail rotor with innumerable opportunities.” A pathway to future hybrid or fully electric technologies for commercial rotorcraft, the system is being developed in Mirabel, Quebec, and is now fully integrated into a twin-engine 429 testbed.
The Electrically Distributed Anti-torque (EDAT) system is one shining result of a $49.5 million investment program initiated by the Government of Canada’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry in mid-2018, through the Strategic Innovation Fund. The funding provided a consortium of 18 industry and academic partners, led by Bell Textron Canada, with the means to develop energy-progressive technologies. The collaboration, at the time, was projected to create or maintain more than 300 jobs in Canada and contribute almost $178 million to Canada’s GDP over the next five years.
“The EDAT represents what is possible with a shared private-public focus on innovation and green technology, and such investments reinforce Canada’s position as a global aerospace leader,” said Steeve Lavoie, president of Bell Textron Canada, during the December 14 virtual presentation. The company expects the technology will be commercialized in some form over the next five to 10 years, as it prepares to move EDAT from a demonstration into an optimization phase.
EDAT is composed of four small fans within a tail rotor shroud in an offset two-by-two pattern. Each of the rotors contains four blades, explains Bell, which are powered by four separate motors with the electrical energy provided through generators driven by turbine engines. Bell explains this design effectively reduces noise and offers lower operational and maintenance costs compared to an aircraft with a conventional tail rotor. In terms of maintenance ease, cables replace the usual driveshaft and gearbox assembly, reducing complexity.
“It’s not always about blockbuster innovation, but also incremental innovations that improve customer experience,” said Lavoie, hinting at Bell’s potential to leverage what it is learning from the EDAT program for aspects of the vertical lift sector. The timeline of EDAT development has been relatively quickly, with testing on the system beginning by mid-2019, about a year after the government’s funding commitment.
“The goal of the project was to mobilize a strong Canadian Innovation Network to focus on five key emerging technologies: Alternate propulsion, autonomy and situational awareness, low-cost fly-by-wire, energy management and advanced anti-torque,” said Michael Thacker, executive vice president of innovation and commercial business at Bell, who also took part in the Aéro Montreal forum, outlining the consortium’s plans. He explained Bell has made progress in all of these areas, particularly testing technologies to support unmanned logistics operations for commercial applications, even if EDAT is a clear testbed highlight.