Bell Textron has conducted the first autonomous flight of the Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) 70 at its testing site near Fort Worth, Texas. Bell plans to continue to test the vehicle under an experimental type certificate throughout the remainder of 2019.
“We are excited to reach this milestone and look forward to continuing to advance this technology for our customers,” said Scott Drennan, vice president of innovation. “The APT is designed to be capable of various mission sets, from package delivery to critical medical transport to disaster relief. We believe this capability will change the way unmanned aerial systems are used commercially in the future.”
APT 70 is part of the eVTOL family of vehicles Bell is developing and can reach speeds of more than 100mph (161km/h) and has a baseline payload capability of 70 lb (31.8kg). Bell says its APT systems are capable of twice the speed and range of a conventional multirotor. The vehicle is designed for rapid deployment, quick reconfiguration and nimble battery swap and recharge.
Through the NASA Systems Integration and Operationalization (SIO) demonstration activity, Bell will use the APT 70 to demonstrate a simulated commercial mission in the national airspace system and conduct beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight operations. The demonstration is expected to be held in mid-2020.
Bell is also in collaboration with Yamato, a Japanese third-party logistics provider, to integrate Yamato’s package handling system into APT 70. The Bell and Yamato team conducted a demonstration showcasing their systems working together in preparation for entry into service anticipated by the early 2020s.