In the race to provide viable, aerial solutions to move goods and information, Bell’s Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) surpassed a significant step in this journey: beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight. Delivering goods and information to critical – sometimes inaccessible – locations calls for an aircraft that can fly autonomously, over long distances and land vertically. At the beginning of the year, Bell’s APT proved that it can handle this type of flight through its first BVLOS flight carrying 60lbs of payload at a testing site in Oklahoma.
This new development is made possible through Bell’s partnership with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO). In an agreement announced in late 2019, CNO and Bell announced that Bell had joined CNO’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UASIPP) team where flights and tests will be conducted as part of the FAA UASIPP in preparation for future advanced UAS operations. CNO is one of nine active UASIPP sites selected by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in May 2018. Both organizations share an interest in the growth of technology to serve communities, which is why CNO has supported Bell APT flight testing on their test site location in rural, south-eastern Oklahoma.
Bell and CNO signed an additional agreement in early 2020 to establish a relationship which will provide Bell a flight test location for Bell’s unmanned vehicles. CNO became the obvious choice for flight test activity for Bell because of its proximity to Dallas-Fort Worth and their commitment to building facilities that support requirements necessary for these operations. In return, Bell is providing guidance to CNO on the creation of their Emerging Aviation Technology Test Center in regard to 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. Their strong partnerships and continued innovation bring them closer to achieving this future goal, one flight at a time.