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Bell Textron, Developer of eVTOL Drone that Can Reach Speeds of 100 MPH, Joins the FAA UAS IPP

BY Isabella Lee
25 December 2019

Bell Textron Inc., the aviation pioneers who first broke the sound barrier, will be joining the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s UAS IPP team and begin testing some of the Bell innovations and systems on CNO-owned property in rural southeastern Oklahoma.

CNO is one of nine sites participating in the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP) — a cooperation between state, local, and tribal governments working together with the private sector to integrate drones into the national airspace system.


Bell recently tested its new eVTOL drone, ATP 70, at their testing site near Fort Worth, TX. Image Source: Bell Textron Inc., a Textron Inc. company.

Bell’s eVTOL Drone is Capable of Speeds More than 100 MPH

Which Bell system will be used in the upcoming flights at the CNO test site is still to be revealed, but we have some ideas.

A likely candidate is the Bell Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) 70 — an electric vertical take off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle that can reach speeds of more than 100mph and has a baseline payload capability of 70 lbs.

Popular Science recognized the APT 70 with a “Best of What’s New in Aerospace” award in December 2019. Its high-speed and long-range capabilities could benefit the CNO’s planned operations in agricultural applications, public safety missions, and infrastructure inspections.

The APT 70 made its first successful autonomous flight not too long ago this past August. You can watch the maiden flight below.

Bell Autonomous Pod Transport 70 Achieves First Autonomous Flight


Bell also has an air-taxi in development, known as the Bell Nexus, but testing this kind of passenger drone would fall outside the scope of the UAS IPP goals. We won’t see air-taxis taking to the skies until the FAA implements a traffic management system for drones, which the agency is developing under a different program called the UTM Pilot Program (UPP).

Bell, CNO, and its partners will be conducting test flights under the FAA’s UAS IPP in preparation for future beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and other advanced UAS operations.

We are proud and excited to be a part of the CNO UAS IPP team. This agreement will enable us to continue to test our vehicles and work in a collaborative effort with CNO and the FAA to improve aviation technologies and achieve new possibilities together.

— Scott Drennan, Vice President of Innovation, Bell Textron

Not only will Bell be participating in the FAA’s UAS IPP, but the company has also been awarded a contract to participate in NASA’s drone demonstrations in mid-2020. The demonstrations will focus on UAS missions occurring at altitudes greater than 500 feet above ground level and include integrated Detect and Avoid (DAA) and Command and Control (C2) technologies. Bell will use the APT 70 to demonstrate a simulated commercial mission in the national airspace system and conduct BVLOS flight operations.

CNO Sets Progress in Motion for BVLOS Drone Operations

The UAS IPP participants have made significant progress since the program was first initiated in 2017. In particular, CNO’s activities have propelled efforts forward on the BVLOS front.

One of their recent successes was hosting GE AiRXOS and SAM for a BVLOS power line inspection. An AeroVironment Vapor 55 flown by GE AirXOS and one flow by SAM were used for the inspections.

Image Source: Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

Additionally, CNO has worked with the Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and the American Electric Power Company — the largest builder, owner, and operator of transmission lines in the U.S. — to conducted BVLOS powerline inspections at night.

Using innovative approaches like this helps ensure continued efficiency and reliability of the energy grid, which ultimately benefits our customers.

— Peggy Simmons, President and COO, PSO.

A series of planned test flights will incorporate BVLOS testing, without any visual observer operations in early 2020. The CNO IPP team also plans to identify the necessary safety infrastructure to enable operations that are more advanced, such as flying over people.

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