Bell 505 first single engine helicopter to fly with all sustainable aviation fuel
February 22, 2023 By Jon Robinson
A Bell 505 completed that helicopter model’s first flight fueled solely by 100 per cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel, which Bell Textron describes as the first ever single-engine helicopter to fly with 100 per cent SAF.
“This flight is a monumental achievement for sustainability and decarbonization in the rotorcraft industry,” said Michael Thacker, executive vice president, Commercial Business, Bell.
To achieve this flight, Bell collaborated with Safran Helicopter Engines, manufacturer of the Arrius 2R engine on the Bell 505; GKN Aerospace, the fuel system component supplier; Neste, the SAF supplier; and Virent, a Marathon Petroleum subsidiary that manufactures renewable fuels and chemicals. Safran Helicopter Engines and GKN Aerospace conducted testing on the engine and fuel system components.
“SAF is one of the key pillars in our strategy to decarbonize the helicopter industry,” said Valentin Safir, executive vice-president, Programs, Safran Helicopter Engines. “Our engines are certified to operate on up to 50% SAF and our objective is to certify in the coming years the use of 100% SAF, which can potentially result in carbon lifecycle emissions reductions by up to 80%.”
Neste and Virent collaborated to blend, test, and deliver the SAF for this project as a 100 per cent drop-in fuel. Bell Textron explains that SAF, made from used cooking oil or other bio-based feedstocks, typically must be blended with petroleum products because it doesn’t include a component called aromatics, which is required to meet today’s aviation fuel specifications.
Virent manufactures an aromatics component made from renewable plant sugars, which was added to Neste’s SAF, eliminating the need to blend SAF with petroleum fuel. The SAF supplied for this test flight by Neste and Virent is, therefore, a “100% drop-in” replacement for petroleum-based aviation fuel, explains Bell, requiring no engine modifications.
Bell’s own training fleet and demonstration aircraft currently use SAF in their operations. The team continues to guide customer conversations around its implementation and monitors SAF testing in a dedicated Bell 505 with Safran Helicopter Engines. This flight supports Textron’s Achieve 2025 Sustainable Footprint goal for 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across the enterprise, among other sustainability initiatives.