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Bell completes successful demonstration for NASA SIO Extension in collaboration with Hillwood and Northwest ISD

By Chris Stonor

The Texas-based Bell Textron Inc. announced this week that its Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) achieved a successful demonstration of a ground-based Detect and Avoid (DAA) flight, fulfilling an extension for its NASA Systems Integration and Operationalisation (SIO) project, reports a press release.

The APT DAA trial showcased the aircraft’s ground radar system integration and its capabilities when navigating airspace traffic and requirements, a critical component needed for future Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) vehicles.

The release explains, “The objective of the SIO demonstration was to execute a Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) mission in complex airspace utilising DAA technology to monitor the airspace for “natural intruders” using Bell’s 429 commercial helicopter and APT unmanned aircraft.”

It continues, “QuantiFLYTM system, a new aircraft communication unit (ACU) powered by Truth Data, offering a true low-cost, lightweight, and fully automatic flight data monitoring (FDM) solution, was used on the Bell 429 to record aircraft telemetry data.”

Matt Holvey, Director of Bell’s Intelligent Systems, commented, “We are excited to demonstrate the effectiveness of ground-based monitoring solutions as part of UAS infrastructure. Radar monitoring, whether airborne or ground-based, may become an important part of drone delivery, air taxi services and other aspects of the ever-expanding AAM ecosystem.”

Bell employed radar systems to monitor the complex airspace within the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) and track manned and unmanned aircraft systems. The MIZ provides a unique environment for coolaborating organisations to test, scale and commercialise emerging technologies in air and surface mobility. Hillwood also provided multiple sites for radar set up, and testing was conducted at the AllianceTexas Flight Test Centre, located approximately four miles north of Fort Worth Alliance Airport.

Christopher Ash, Senior Vice-President of aviation business development for Hillwood, said, “We are honored to partner with Bell to launch the testing initiatives as they work with NASA to lay the foundation for the future of budding air technologies. The data they receive from these efforts will enable the industry to advance the commercialization of this technology across multiple platforms.”

Along with Hillwood, Bell has collaborated with Northwest Independent School District (NISD) to provide a site for Bell to install a radar at their Outdoor Learning Centre.

In addition, Microsoft provided AirSim, a simulation tool for training Autonomous systems, gave Bell a Digital Twin environment to model the NASA SIO Extension flight in the virtual world before flying through the corridor. This allowed the team to conduct simulated real-world tests of the APT aircraft across a broad range of scenarios without any safety risks and at a fraction of the cost and time needed.

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