The Bell 505 completed its first flight fuelled solely by 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) on 21 February, marking the first-ever single engine helicopter to fly with 100% SAF. Airbus’ H225 became the worlds’ first (double engine) helicopter to fly using 100% SAF in November 2021.
To achieve this flight, Bell, a subsidiary of Textron, 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 thorough testing on the engine and fuel system components.
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%.Valentin Safir, executive vice-president, Programs, Safran Helicopter Engines
“This flight is a monumental achievement for sustainability and decarbonization in the rotorcraft industry,” said Michael Thacker, executive vice president, Commercial Business, Bell. “Showcasing a single engine aircraft’s flight capabilities with 100% SAF signals Bell’s commitment to alternative fuel usage and builds on its sustainability practices in its flight operations.”
Neste and Virent collaborated to blend, test and deliver the SAF for this project as a 100% drop-in fuel. SAF, made from used cooking oil or other bio-based feedstocks, typically must be blended with petroleum products because it does not contain 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.
The SAF supplied for this test flight by Neste and Virent is therefore a “100% drop-in” replacement for petroleum-based aviation fuel, requiring no engine modifications. Neste and Virent previously supplied the drop-in SAF to Emirates’ milestone flight, which had one of its engines 100% powered by SAF, proving its capabilities of completely replacing conventional jet fuel with no modification on aircraft engines.
“Neste is working closely together with forerunners in the aviation industry on verifying that aircraft can run safely on 100% SAF. This successful collaboration demonstrates that we are one step closer to enabling the entire aviation industry to take full advantage of 100% SAF as the key means to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions of air travel”, said Jonathan Wood, Vice President Global Commercial and Technical, Renewable Aviation at Neste.
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% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across the enterprise, among other sustainability initiatives.