The use of drones to deliver packages took a step closer to reality this week after the successful test of a unmanned aircraft that flew from Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport to a nearby Pecan Square master-planned neighborhood.
The four-mile flight was significant in part because the aircraft was able to navigate through several classifications of air space, said officials with Hillwood and Bell, two North Texas companies that took part in the test. Maneuvering around various types of air space, which can restrict aircraft movements, is one of the challenges unmanned aircraft will face as they become more widely used, officials have said.
The Bell APT-70 drone took off vertically from an area known as the Mobility Innovation Zone at Alliance Airport. The aircraft then tilted its rotors and flew like a propeller-driven biplane.
While the aircraft’s programmed flight path took it mostly over unpopulated areas, it did fly close to Interstate 35W and Texas Motor Speedway before landing at a clearing in Pecan Square, a new master-planned neighborhood that is quickly growing in Northlake, a Denton County community north of Fort Worth.
“Bell is proud to play a role in the first North Texas (unmanned aircraft system) package delivery, and this demonstration showcases the future application of the APT-70 as a logistics carrier,” Bell president and chief executive officer Mitch Snyder said in a statement. “Testing … showcases how Bell’s autonomous vehicles could seamlessly integrate into logistics operations and unlock new opportunities for businesses.”
Bell’s APT aircraft is an electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle with air speeds of more than 100 mph. The aircraft recently completed another test flight near Mineral Wells showing that it can carry up to 110 pounds over long distances.
Data collected during the Alliance Airport test will help develop future standards for the Federal Aviation Administration to use in its drone certification guidelines, Bell officials said.
Bell and Hillwood are working with the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition, a public-private partnership focused on improving mobility in the Fort Worth area, to expand the use of new technologies in the movement of goods across the region.
“Our region is uniquely positioned to support companies engaged in the commercialization of new technologies in air mobility,” said Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, who also is chairman of the coalition. “We’re proud to support Bell and Hillwood in launching North Texas’ first point-to-point package delivery at the MIZ and look forward to their continued leadership in making our region an epicenter for mobility innovation.”
Bell is headquartered in Fort Worth and has been a large player in North Texas’ aviation community for 70 years. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Textron Inc.