Bell APT 70 Efficiently Completes NASA’s Methods Integration and Operationalization Exercise – Drones Information
Bell Textron Inc., a Textron Inc. (NYSE: TXT) company, today announced the successful flight of the Bell Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) 70 in a joint flight demonstration with NASA. Bell was selected to participate in NASA’s Systems Integration and Operationalization (SIO) activity in 2018, which includes multiple flight demonstrations focusing on different types of unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAS) and their flight environments.
The aim of Bell’s SIO demonstration was to conduct a BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight) mission in an urban setting that will enter and exit Class B airspace and represent future commercial flights. The mission results will be used to evaluate and demonstrate the Detect and Avoid (DAA) and Command and Control (C2) technologies for future certified operations in controlled and uncontrolled airspace. The data collected during the demonstration will be used to support future development of standards and certification guidelines of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“This successful demonstration underscores the great potential of the APT 70 to accomplish complex missions for businesses and healthcare providers,” said Michael Thacker, Executive Vice President, Innovation and Commercial Business. “With teammates like NASA, we can pave the way for future commercial operations to solve the freight and freight transportation challenges our world is currently facing.”
The APT 70 took off from Bell’s Floyd Carlson field in Fort Worth, TX and flew a preprogrammed 10-mile circuit along the Trinity River. As soon as the APT 70 was armed from the ground control station, it launched a vertical takeoff. The vehicle then spun to fly on its wings, where it went almost still to the ground. The vehicle completed its mission profile at a height of 500 feet above the ground. The route included an intersection and a transition into and out of Class B airspace. Communication between the ground station and the aircraft was maintained via a redundant data link. A prototype of an air detection and avoidance system as well as visual observers informed the remote pilot of the air traffic in the vicinity and recommended flight maneuvers.
“NASA is excited to partner with Bell to accelerate routine UAS operations in national airspace with this successful flight demonstration,” said Mauricio Rivas, UAS Integration with NAS Project Manager at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. “Our efforts with Bell and our other SIO industry partners will help commercial UAS move closer to certification to make missions like this transport flight a joint event.”
Bell’s technology partners for the demonstration include Xwing and the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA). The airborne multi-sensor detection and avoidance system from Xwing is integrated into the APT 70. The Xwing system consists of radar, ADS-B, visual system and on-board processing to provide aircraft traces and pilot alerts that are sent to the ground station. The APT 70 also includes the intuitive, integrated display from CASA, with which pilots receive local weather risk awareness and route-based weather warnings, which are issued by their City Warn Hazard Notification System used in the DFW-Metroplex.
It is envisaged that an operational APT 70 could in the future provide efficient, fast and reliable transportation for payloads up to 70 pounds. The APT 70 is estimated to move three times as fast as the ground transport. The vehicle is able to fly autonomously, automatically fly a programmed flight route and handle a range of emergency functions. Possible applications for the APT 70 include medical deliveries, third-party logistics, offshore deliveries, humanitarian aid, and more.