WASHINGTON — Rare is the flying machine whose most interesting feature comes into play when it is sits stationary on the ground. Bell’s APT-70 tiltbody is, primarily, a resupply vehicle, a flying solution pitched at meeting urgent needs in small landing zones.
With all essential hardware for flying located in the airframe of the vehicle — instead of the detachable pod (delivering a 70-pound, or in the case of the smaller APT-20 version, a 20-pound payload) — the utility of the frame itself is what offers new options as a platform. And in a fixed position, it is what lets it work as temporary infrastructure.
“The APT-70 can function as a comms repeater,” said John Wittmaak of Bell, speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
Wittmaak described a scenario where an APT-70 drone is used for resupply as part of disaster relief. After missions depositing water, food, cooled blood if need be and batteries, an APT-70 fitted with a communications signal repeater could land at a high vantage point, restoring signal to the cellphones of people cut off from communication until a more permanent solution can be found.
Such a relay rotorcraft could also land on a hill in an organically denied environment, where mountains and other terrain get in the way of useful radio signals. The ability of a commander to call into place a comms repeater would extend command-and-control capability into otherwise distant or difficult areas.
“We want to make urgent, time-sensitive resupply casual,” Wittmaak said.
The APT-70 flies autonomously, taking off and landing like a quadcopter and then pivoting toward more horizontal, fixed-wing flight once in the air. After that transition, the craft draws 50 percent less power and can travel at twice the speed, increasing the range over traditional quadcopters.
Autonomous navigation is guided by GPS, with inertial sensors and onboard cameras contributing. The APT-70′s communications are encrypted. Users can hard-code mission constraints into the navigation, which would prevent the flying machine from going off course.
APT-70 will be at Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment 2020. As for the drone’s future, Bell says ship-to-ship takeoff and landing is in the works.