Bell achieved a first autonomous flight with its Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) 70 aircraft on August 26. The APT 70, which has a payload capacity of 70 pounds and can fly at speeds up to nearly 100 mph, is expected to take part in NASA’s Systems Integration and Operationalization demonstration in mid-2020. The eVTOL is intended to be part of Bell's wider APT family of aircraft with varying payload and range capabilities.
According to the U.S. rotorcraft manufacturer, flight testing will continue under an experimental type certificate at its facility near Fort Worth, Texas, for the rest of 2019. Bell aims to demonstrate the APT 70’s suitability for missions such as package delivery, medical support, and disaster relief.
Next year’s NASA demonstration will simulate commercial missions in the U.S. National Airspace System and will include beyond visual line of sight operations. Bell is working with Yamato to integrate the Japanese logistics group’s package handling system with the APT 70, with the goal of beginning commercial operations by the early 2020s.
Its APT concept consists of a payload pod that is attached via pylons to two wings, each fitted with four or eight propellers powered by electric motors. The intention is that both pods and batteries can be quickly changed out between missions.
The APT 70 can carry up to 70 pounds for up to 35 miles or, with extra batteries fitted, up to 50 miles with a 35-pound payload. Without a payload, it will fly up to 65 miles.
Separately, Bell is continuing to develop the Nexus eVTOL prototype intended for passenger services. First flight is planned for 2020 and Bell hopes to achieve type certification in 2023.
The Nexus design features a central wing, integrated landing skids, and a V tail topped by a short horizontal stabilizer. It will carry four passengers on flights of up to around 150 miles and at speeds of up to 175 mph.