Estimated reading time 10 minutes, 52 seconds.
The Bell Nexus program featured prominently in the eVTOL landscape as one of the preferred platforms for what was Uber Elevate seemed to lose some traction in the past few years. However, it would be almost unthinkable that the Textron group, as pioneers and leaders of so many facets of vertical flight, would not have a strong presence in the development of eVTOL.
verticalmag.com took the opportunity speak to Rob Scholl, Textron eAviation’s CEO and president, to get an update on the Nexus and his outlook for advanced air mobility (AAM).
Scholl confirmed that he continues to oversee the development and expansion of the Nexus program and Pipistrel as Textron eAviation businesses. He leverages the work across Textron’s aerospace and defense businesses to develop new opportunities to take advantage of the group’s fixed-wing and rotorcraft expertise.
He was previously senior vice president of Textron’s eAviation initiative prior to it becoming a Textron business segment. This followed his work as Textron Aviation’s senior vice president of sales, leading the global commercial aircraft sales, pre-owned sales and flight operations divisions.
In that role, he was responsible for global sales initiatives to ensure a strong and direct industry presence to meet customers’ needs for Cessna and Beechcraft jets, turboprops and pistons. Scholl also served on the board of directors for FlightSafety Textron Aviation Training.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Alex Scerri: What is the status of the Nexus program and why did it appear, at least externally, that the project was on the backburner?
Rob Scholl: In fall 2021, the Nexus program was transferred from Bell to Textron eAviation. This enabled the Nexus team to strategically leverage both airplane and rotorcraft engineering expertise from across the Textron enterprise.
The eAviation Nexus team is currently refining systems requirements for the aircraft while simultaneously conducting tests on demonstration articles to include motor conversion actuation loading, flight control laws, and elements associated with aircraft power and battery management.
This approach leads to a more robust flight demonstration article and allows the team to establish a performance baseline.
Alex Scerri: Were the Bell Nexus 4EX and 6HX programs running concurrently, or did the 6HX supersede the 4EX?
Rob Scholl: In January 2020, Bell revealed a full-scale mock-up of the second Nexus urban air mobility (UAM) aircraft, named Nexus 4EX. The first Bell Nexus model was renamed the Nexus 6HX (six ducted propellers, hybrid-electric power train, experimental).
Alex Scerri: Are you still looking at using the hybrid power solution?
Rob Scholl: At the present time, the Nexus team is focused on a fully electric propulsion platform for the first prototype aircraft. Pipistrel has experience with building and flying a hybrid-electric aircraft with the Panthera program. That aircraft first flew in 2021 with a hybrid propulsion system, and we will leverage that experience to evaluate possible future hybrid-electric solutions for the Nexus and other eAviation programs.
Alex Scerri: Is the aircraft that is being developed now a continuation of the 4EX or 6HX programs, or is it a new iteration?
Rob Scholl: The Nexus eVTOL is a continuation of the 4EX aircraft. The current Nexus aircraft now has six open rotors — the four wing-mounted rotors tilt between vertical and horizontal flight, and the two rear rotors on the tail booms are fixed to produce vertical thrust.
Alex Scerri: What does Pipistrel bring to the Textron group in terms of expertise in eVTOL, and could there be a shift to different architecture than the tiltrotor?
Rob Scholl: Pipistrel is the world leader in electric aviation, having type-certified the only electric aircraft in the world. Pipistrel is already developing the Nuuva V300 hybrid eVTOL uncrewed cargo aircraft. This experience will support Textron throughout the Nexus program. Given Pipistrel’s strong experience in aviation-grade electric propulsion, we will leverage their experience and skill across Textron, including the Nexus program.
Alex Scerri: Where will the program be based?
Rob Scholl: Currently, Textron eAviation has a dedicated team in Wichita, Kansas, leading the Nexus program. The business segment is also drawing upon support from Textron’s other divisions, including Bell, Textron Aviation, McCauley Propeller, automotive supplier Kautex, and Pipistrel.
Alex Scerri: What are your timelines — from prototype to first conforming production aircraft to certification?
Rob Scholl: The Nexus team is currently designing a full-scale prototype of the Nexus and is planning to fly this within a couple of years. The entry-into-service date is dependent on technology and regulatory development, as well as batteries, motors, and operations.
Alex Scerri: What is your outlook as far as regulation for AAM in the U.S. for certification and operation of eVTOLs?
Rob Scholl: Making regulatory transformations such as these require dedicated industry-regulator collaboration. We are fortunate to have a strong relationship with regulators in the AAM space and will continue to work with them to chart a course forward and determine where Nexus fits into that course.
Textron has extensive experience over the last 10-plus years in design, building, and certifying a variety of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. The current timeline for U.S. certification is unclear for AAM. We believe our industry leading experience will allow us to partner with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help define the pathway over the next decade.
Alex Scerri: What do you think were the concrete takeaways from the recent White House Summit on AAM?
Rob Scholl: The AAM conference hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology was a great opportunity for industry and government officials to come together to discuss the great potential of AAM. My takeaway is that there is strong potential for the U.S. in the design, manufacturing, and use of AAM, both cargo and passenger transportation.
Industry and government must come together to define the regulatory and infrastructure roadmap to enable the benefits of AAM. If the U.S. continues to lag in this area, the country risks falling behind other regions of the world including Europe. With Textron’s experience in designing aircraft that work for our customers, we stand ready to partner with the U.S. government in this work.
Alex Scerri: Is there anything else you would like to share with the eVTOL community?
Rob Scholl: At Textron, we are confident in the bright future of AAM. Given our wealth of experience, I would caution participants in the AAM market to be ready for the challenging road ahead. Many companies are setting very aggressive expectations for market timing and growth. We know that the path to designing and certifying a viable aircraft can be technically challenging and capital intensive. I would recommend that the eVTOL community evaluate partners to ensure they have the technical and market expertise necessary for the journey to the future of AAM.