NASA will be working with Bell Helicopter and others to overcome the current obstacles to commercial UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) operation. On August 29th, it announced funding up to $11 million to work with Bell. NASA names these main obstacles as technological advancements, systems integration, and certification of aircraft and avionics.
Through this collaboration, NASA and Bell hope to deliver new technologies for unmanned aerial systems including integrated Detect and Avoid (DAA) and Command and Control (C2) technologies. Bell seeks to use the technologies it develops alongside NASA in its new Autonomous Pod Transport 70 (APT70). The APT70 is a tail-sitting VTOL with load capacity up to 70lbs, and a top speed up to 100mph. It vertically lifts into the air like a drone, and then rotates into a horizontal flight position to fly like a bi-plane using its built-in fixed wing. A near-final version of the APT70 will conduct a flight demonstration in 2020.
Bell showcased its prototype at XPONENTIAL 2018 aerospace show last May, positioning as having potential military use as well as commercial cargo use. In a military capacity, the ATP could eliminate the need for resupply by vehicle, bringing troops items like goggles, body armor, and batteries.
The collaboration between Bell and NASA will be managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. Other partners include Textron Systems, Xwing, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA). Bell will lead the design, development, production and systems integration of APT, while Textron Systems will supply command and control operations, Xwing will provide detect and avoid technologies, and CASA will provide weather avoidance technology.
Why it’s important: The Bell ATP70 is one of the first unmanned VTOLs featuring a fixed wing. Unlike many existing UAVs that carry payloads, it has the capability of horizontal flight, making it faster and more efficient, and giving it higher range. The development of technology and certifications for unmanned eVTOLs with fixed-wing capabilities paves the way for similar aircraft with passenger carrying abilities.
Bell will also be using the new technologies developed with NASA in its Air Taxi design. Learn more about the Bell Air Taxi here.