Bell has just achieved the first autonomous flight of its Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) 70 aircraft, and will continue testing throughout the year.

The U.S. helicopter and tilt-rotor manufacturer has just shared footage of its cargo eVTOL drone completing a first of many fully autonomous flights. Bell will ramp up flight testing under an experimental type certificate at its facility near Fort Worth, Texas to eventually support missions such as package delivery, medical support, and disaster relief. The vehicle has key design features such as a modular design for rapid battery swap & recharging, and a payload pod that is attached via pylons to two wings, each fitted with electric-powered propellers.

The APT70 is a tail-sitting VTOL with load capacity up to 70lbs, and a top speed up to 100mph. It takes off vertically as does a drone, then rotates to horizontal flight in a bi-plane configuration using its built-in fixed wings. A near-final version of the APT70 will conduct another flight demonstration in 2020 through NASA’s Systems Integration and Operationalization partnership. Meanwhile, the company continues to develop its wider APT family of eVTOL aircraft to achieve varying payload and range capabilities.

Bell's APT 70 (left) and APT 20 (right) eVTOL prototypes

Bell’s APT70 (left) and APT20 (right). // AIN Online

According to Bell, next year’s demonstration through the NASA partnership will simulate commercial missions in the U.S. National Airspace System and will include beyond visual line of sight operations. 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). Bell is also working with Japanese logistics group Yamato to create an integrated package handling system with the APT 70, and strives to launch commercial operations by the early 2020s.

Related: Bell Flight Unveils Nexus Prototype at CES 2019

First flight for the Nexus passenger eVTOL is planned for 2020 and Bell hopes to achieve type certification in 2023. The aircraft design features a central wing, integrated landing skids, and six ducted tilt-rotor fans. It will carry four passengers on flights of up to around 150 miles and at speeds of up to 175 mph. Read more about the Bell Nexus’ technical specifications in the Hangar.

Why it’s important: Bell is expanding its aircraft profile in the urban air mobility industry and demonstrates time and resource investments in both the passenger and cargo sectors. Small-scale cargo transportation has been an area of interest for both the military as well as large online retailers such as Amazon, demonstrating a wide swath of applications for the APT 70 and the company’s future fleet of cargo eVTOLs.

Posted by Naish Gaubatz

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