The Bell 505 helicopter has completed its first flight fueled by 100 per cent Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), marking the first-ever single engine helicopter to fly solely with the fuel.

Bell collaborated with Safran Helicopter Engines, Neste, GKN Aerospace and Virent to make the flight possible.

“This flight is a monumental achievement for sustainability and decarbonisation in the rotorcraft industry,” said Michael Thacker, executive vice president, commercial business, Bell.

“Showcasing a single engine aircraft’s flight capabilities with 100 per cent SAF signals Bell’s commitment to alternative fuel usage and builds on its sustainability practices in its flight operations.”

Decarbonising the helicopter industry

Valentin Safir, executive vice-president, programmes, Safran Helicopter Engines, said: “SAF is one of the key pillars in our strategy to decarbonise the helicopter industry. Our engines are certified to operate on up to 50 per cent SAF and our objective is to certify in the coming years the use of 100 per cent SAF, which can potentially result in carbon lifecycle emissions reductions by up to 80 per cent.”

Neste and Virent collaborated to blend, test, and deliver the SAF for this project as a 100 per cent drop-in fuel.

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 neat SAF, eliminating the need to blend SAF with petroleum fuel.

No engine modifications

The SAF supplied for this test flight by Neste and Virent is therefore a “100 per cent drop-in” replacement for petroleum-based aviation fuel, 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.

The flight supports Textron’s Achieve 2025 Sustainable Footprint goal for a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across the enterprise, among other sustainability initiatives.
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