Bell has revealed an autonomous flying testbed based on a 429 light-twin commercial helicopter fitted with a fly-by-wire flight-control system.

Developed by the airframer’s Advanced Programs team, the Aircraft Laboratory for Future Autonomy (ALFA) will be used to trial autonomous flight systems.

ALFA 3-c-Bell

Source: Bell

Bell 429 has been fitted with fly-by-wire control system

“Fly-by-wire flight, coupled with additional capabilities that are being integrated into ALFA, provide a great foundation for Bell to expand on its autonomous capabilities,” says Jason Hurst, executive vice-president, engineering, Bell.

“This aircraft will serve as a flying lab that will inform future autonomous technology development, which we can ultimately leverage to deliver the best rotorcraft solutions to global operators.”

Bell says the overall design of the system, which separates safety-related and flight-control functions, allows the “rapid development and evaluation of novel flight-control technology”.

Bell ALFA 1-c-Bell

Source: Bell

Platform will serve as a flying testbed for autonomous technologies

Registered N34UE, the maiden sortie of the ALFA – at least in its latest guise – took place at Bell’s commercial helicopter assembly facility in Mirabel, Canada, with the testbed subsequently transferred to the manufacturer’s Flight Research Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

Originally built in 2012 and initially operated by United Therapeutics, the 429 was acquired by Bell in 2015, Cirium data records.