Bell plans to demonstrate its Autonomous POD Transport, a tail-sitting vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicle, to several branches of the US military, including the Marine Corps, in the "late summer or early fall".

The company has been test-flying a POD that can carry a 9.1kg (20lb) payload, and plans to show that vehicle to the military, says programme manager Eldon Metzger. A larger version of the POD that can carry a 31.8kg payload is under construction, he adds.

Bell's Autonomous POD Transport takes off and lands vertically, but transitions and flies horizontally on wings. The VTOL capabilities of the aircraft allow it to take off and land in tight spaces, while its horizontal flight abilities allow it to fly more efficiently.

Bell autonomous pod transport - Bell


"It is really quite surprising how fast you can be coming in and then just basically stand that thing up on its end and bring it to a hover, set it down. Of course, that's where high power is required, in the pure VTOL mode, so we try to minimise that," says Bell chief innovation engineer Carey Cannon. "It’s probably close to 40% power reduction once you get it on its wing, which obviously gives it its range."

The POD with a 9.1kg payload capacity, which is powered by four electric motors, has a target range of 10.8nm (20km). The company has plans for several versions of the UAV, up to a variant that can carry 454kg.

Bell sees the POD as a solution for providing short-hop cargo transportation for logistics companies or the military. The UAV could be used to resupply ground troops with small items such as goggles, body armour or batteries, instead of having to dispatch vehicles to carry such equipment, Metzger says.

Much of the POD's flight will be handled autonomously, including take-off, landing and transition to horizontal flight, Cannon says.

Bell is also examining ways for the POD to operate without GPS, in case of electronic interference from adversaries.

"There’s a number of ways [of doing that]," Cannon says. "You could put an inertial system on board... meaning essentially you know where you left, you know where you are headed and through some software you can kind of map where you are without GPS."