Bell unveils heli lab to develop autonomous fly-by-wire


The aircraft lab is based on the Bell 429 helicopter.

Bell Textron has unveiled its Aircraft Laboratory for Future Autonomy (ALFA) based on its Bell 429 helicopter. The aircraft is focused on developing an aircraft safety system and operating autonomous fly-by-wire flights.

“Fly-by-wire flight, coupled with additional capability that are being integrated into ALFA, provide a great foundation for Bell to expand on its autonomous capabilities,” said 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.”

The fly-by-wire integration is a critical step in the development of autonomous controls for Bell’s commercial aircraft, according to the manufacturer. The emerging technology is aimed to cut pilot workload and improve safety, it added.

The ALFA safety system separates safety functions from flight control functions. This is intended to enable the rapid development and evaluation of novel flight control technology without compromising safety.

The Bell 429 completed its maiden flight at Bell’s Commercial Assembly and Delivery Centre in Mirabel, Quebec, Canada. The helicopter is now operated from Bell’s Flight Research Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

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