Autonomous Pod Transport UAS Completes BVLOS Mission

By Mike Ball / 05 Oct 2020

Bell Autonomous Pod Transport UAS

Bell Textron has successfully completed a test flight of its Bell APT (Autonomous Pod Transport) 70 UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) as part of a joint demonstration with NASA under its Systems Integration and Operationalization (SIO) activities. SIO involves a range of different types of UAS and their flight environments.

The objective of the demonstration was to undertake a Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) mission in an urban environment, transitioning into and out of Class B airspace to simulate potential future commercial flights. The results will be used to evaluate and demonstrate Detect and Avoid (DAA) and Command and Control (C2) technologies for use in future certified operations in controlled and uncontrolled airspace. Data collected during the demonstration will be used to support future standards development and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification guidelines.

The APT 70 was launched from Bell’s Floyd Carlson airfield in Fort Worth, Texas, performing a vertical takeoff and then transitioning to forward flight. It flew a preprogrammed 10-mile circuit path along the Trinity River at an altitude of 500 feet above ground level. The route included a road crossing and transition in and out of Class B airspace. Communication between the ground station and the aircraft was maintained through a redundant datalink. A prototype airborne detect and avoid system, along with visual observers, provided the remote pilot with awareness of air traffic in the vicinity and recommended flight maneuvers.

Bell’s technology partners for the demonstration included Xwing and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA). Xwing’s airborne multi-sensing detect and avoid system, consisting of radars, ADS-B, visual system and onboard processing to provide aircraft tracks, and pilot alerts transmitted to the ground station, was integrated onto the APT 70. The UAS also utilized CASA’s intuitive, integrated display to provide pilots with local weather risk awareness and route-based weather alerts issued by their City Warn Hazard Notification System deployed in the DFW metroplex.

Bell envisions that a fully operational APT 70 could provide efficient, rapid and dependable transport for payloads up to 70lbs. Capable of autonomous flight, the aircraft is estimated to move three times as fast as ground transportation. Potential uses for the APT 70 include medical deliveries, third-party logistics, offshore delivery, humanitarian relief and more.

Michael Thacker, executive vice president of Innovation and Commercial Business at Bell, commented: “This successful demonstration highlights the great potential for the APT 70 to complete complex missions for businesses and healthcare providers. With teammates like NASA, we can carve a path forward for future commercial operations to solve the cargo and goods transportation challenges our world currently faces.”

Mauricio Rivas, project manager for UAS integration in the NAS at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, said: “NASA is excited to partner with Bell to help accelerate routine UAS operations into the national airspace with this successful flight demo. Our efforts with Bell and our other SIO industry partners will help commercial UAS move closer towards certification to make missions like this transport flight a common event.”

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Posted by Mike Ball Mike Ball is our resident technical editor here at Unmanned Systems Technology. Combining his passion for teaching, advanced engineering and all things unmanned, Mike keeps a watchful eye over everything related to the unmanned technical sector. With over 10 years’ experience in the unmanned field and a degree in engineering, Mike’s been heading up our technical team here for the last 8 years. Connect & Contact