Military

Bell Moving to Scale Up Autonomous Delivery Drones for US Military

By Frank Wolfe | September 27, 2018
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Bell APT70. Image courtesy of Bell

Bell is developing the scalability and flight control software of its Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) family of vehicles to meet U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army requirements, Todd Worden, the Bell senior manager of global military business development and advanced tiltrotor systems, said in an interview at Modern Day Marine this week at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

Such developments are to meet a Marine Corps request for information issued in June for a Group 3 delivery drone that can carry 25-500 pounds of cargo, fly a minimum 10 km, can function in varied environments with limited support, and has a maximum takeoff weight of less than 1,320 pounds.

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The Marine Corps wants to begin fielding the delivery drones next year. Last month, the Army Contracting Command asked the National Advanced Mobility Consortium to provide prototype UAV designs that can carry a payload of between 50 and 600 pounds of supplies while maintaining a gross takeoff weight of less than 1,320 pounds.

Other companies, such as Airbus, are eyeing the Marine Corps and Army concepts. For its part, Airbus has a VSR700 helicopter UAV, which has a maximum takeoff weight of 1,543 pounds, a speed of 100 kt and can carry 661 pounds of fuel and cargo.

As Bell moves to demonstrate its concept, it hopes to test fly its APT 70, an electric VTOL that can reach 100 mph and has a payload capacity of 70 pounds, in the second quarter of next year under a NASA project. The aircraft can land and takeoff vertically in a configuration similar to a quadcopter, then transition to speedy forward flight by twisting its wings and rotors around a central cargo pod.

For the Marine Corps and the Army, a scaled-up Bell APT, which may feature a hybrid fuel system, will be "wheels-off-the-road assured resupply," Worden said, adding that the tail-sitting APT "flies on the wing" and thus will have additional efficiency, extended battery capability and higher speed than a rotorcraft design. Vector thrust modules will give the APT stability in crosswinds, Worden said.

Bell envisions modular APT pods, such as cargo and Medevac, carrying 1,000 pounds of commercial or military payloads, such as ammunition, ISR systems, food, water and packages.

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