Aviation giant Bell Aircraft Corporation soared through FAA drone benchmarks, landing beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) status with its Autonomous Pod Transport (APT)
Citing drone missions that require delivering “goods and information to critical – sometimes inaccessible – locations,” Bell snagged BVLOS to launch autonomous drone flights over long distances using VTOL aircraft.
The project is a collaboration with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO). In an agreement announced in late 2019, Bell had joined CNO’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program team. Flights and tests will be conducted as part of the program in preparation for future advanced drone ops.
Bell’s APT can handle BVLOS flight carrying 60 pounds of payload, according to a Bell press statement. The CNO is one of nine active UASIPP sites selected by Transportation Sec. Elaine L. Chao.
In addition, Bell and CNO signed an agreement earlier this year to allow Bell test flight privileges. Bell will also provide guidance to CNO to create an Emerging Aviation Technology Test Center covering safety and efficient flight operations.
“Bell is eager to expand APT’s BVLOS flights to eventually support medical supply drops, basic supply chain operations and even kiosk deliveries. Our strong partnerships and continued innovation bring us closer to achieving this future goal, one flight at a time.”
Bell’s APT 70 drone is designed to perform multiple missions including package delivery, organic resupply operations, critical medical transport and disaster relief.
Last year, the APT 70 made its first autonomous flight at Bell’s testing site near Fort Worth, carrying a 60-pound load.
In December 2019, Popular Science awarded the APT 70 with a “Best of What’s New Award” in the aerospace category.
Bell Textron was also selected by NASA to perform flights under the Systems Integration and Operationalization (SIO) program.