Bell has continued developments of its Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) tailsitting eVTOL cargo drone. On Dec. 9, Bell flew its APT 70 with 110 lb (50 kg) of payload over an 8-mile (12.9-km) route at Bell’s testing site near Fort Worth, Texas. On Feb. 1, the company announced that it and Hillwood had demonstrated a point-to-point unmanned aircraft system (UAS) package delivery in North Texas. The APT flew a preprogrammed four-mile route through the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone — flying near interstate I-35W while transitioned in and out of Class D and Class G airspace — demonstrating its future commercial capabilities.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 11, the Bell Innovation flight test team at its Mirabel, Quebec, facility conducted the first flight of an alternate configuration of the APT (shown) in collaboration with ARA Robotics. This platform operates with the same architecture and propulsion system of the APT 70 (and is about the same dimensions) but utilizes a different airframe to evaluate alternative design features like a fixed central pod that favors containerized payloads, side access to payload bays, swept wings and articulated V-tails. The purpose of the project was to explore variations in the design and evaluate changes in performance, autonomy and user interactions.