Prototype Tiltrotor UAV Crashed April 5
Bell Helicopter may be
going back to the drawing board, but it isn’t giving up on
its quest to develop unmanned aircraft systems.
On April 5, Bell lost the only prototype of its TR-918 Eagle Eye
tiltrotor UAV in a test flight crash. All had been going well
during the flight when the Eagle Eye, flying at about 300 feet
above the ground, suddenly lost power. Investigators said an
unknown glitch caused the fuel supply to be cut to the aircraft's
Despite the setback, however, Bell's executive director of
vertical unmanned aircraft programs, Bob Ellithorpe, says the
company is pressing on with its UAV plans. He told the Fort Worth
Star-Telegram Bell plans to build another version of the Eagle Eye
to continue the testing and development, but not until the crash
investigation is complete so that improvements can be
"We have high confidence in the flight-control systems," said
Ellithorpe, "and we have high confidence in the data link."
Bell launched the Eagle Eye program several years ago, after an
order from the US Coast Guard. The Coast Guard funded development
of one version of the UAV, the TR-916 (below), which would be
equipped with surveillance systems for operation from ships at
Due to the cost of re-equipping its entire fleet of cutters and
patrol aircraft, however, the Coast Guard has since delayed funding
for the Eagle Eye -- but Bell launched its own effort, aimed at
producing a less complex version of the UAV, the TR-918, that could
be sold to the US military or law enforcement agencies.
Ellithorpe says that the Eagle Eye will fly again... but not
before Bell learns its lessons from the accident so improvements
can be made.
"What did we learn in flight test? What did we learn in the
mishap? Those will go into the calculation of what comes next,"
And as far as Bell's UAV plans after the Eagle Eye? Well, Bell
makes helicopters, after all... and Ellithorpe says they're not
overlooking the opportunity to develop an unmanned helicopter.