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Bell’s self-flying cargo drone completes its first flight

Testing for the APT 70 will continue throughout the year.
Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid|@askhalid|August 26, 2019 8:18 PM

Bell's multicopter UAV completed a successful first flight today at its testing site near Fort Worth, Texas. Known as the APT 70, the six by nine-foot vehicle has a range of 19 miles and can transport up to 70 pounds. The fully autonomous drone is designed to handle tasks that range from package delivery to the transport of medical supplies or food during a natural disaster.

"We are excited to reach this milestone, and look forward to continuing to advance this technology for our customers," said Scott Drennan, vice president of Bell's Innovation team. The company will be testing the APT 70 for the rest of the year. Following that trial period, it plans to use the vehicle to conduct demonstrations -- both in and out of controlled airspace -- through a systems integration and operationalization contract it won with NASA.

Last year, the Fort Worth-based aerospace company began testing the APT 20, a smaller version of the APT 70 with a payload capacity of 20 pounds. Both vehicles are fully autonomous. In other words, they take off and land vertically and transition to forward flight while mid-air.

We're still a long way from delivery drone package delivery being an option for everyday consumers, but some headway has been made this year. UPS is in the midst of FAA approval for its own commercial delivery drone system. Back in April, the FAA certified the Alphabet-owned Wing to deliver goods in the US. Amazon this summer unveiled a helicopter-airplane hybrid to be used in an upcoming Prime Air delivery service.

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Bell has also teamed up with Yamato, a Japanese logistics company, to integrate its package handling system. The demonstration today displayed their systems side by side. Both companies hope to enter into service sometime in the early 2020s.

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Bell’s self-flying cargo drone completes its first flight