One of Bell’s Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) cargo drones crashed on March 14 in a field near Mineral Wells, Texas, in what is being categorized as a “loss of control” accident by the FAA. A spokeswoman for Bell said that no injuries resulted from the incident and directed questions to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The APT 70 experimental aircraft, with registration number N314AL, first flew in 2019. It has a range of 22 miles (35 kilometers) with a 100-pound (45 kilograms) payload and a maximum speed of 86 knots. The battery-powered aircraft is designed to fly in winds up to 30 mph (48 kph) at temperatures up to 125 degrees F (52 degrees C). Damage to the 300-pound (136 kg) vehicle is unknown.
Bell has long-promoted its line of APT aircraft as a practical solution for the delivery of urgent military and civil cargo including medical supplies. The aircraft was selected by NASA’s Systems Integration and Operations program to perform test flights to validate uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) safety and control infrastructure. The company aims to develop and certify a production model that can carry 100 pounds of payload at speeds up to 100 knots.
The aircraft has the ability to be manually off-loaded and can automatically drop loads at a fixed point or fly over and airdrop payloads. The APT has been tested in beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations and in highly-controlled and congested airspace, including the area around Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.