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Bell's Aircraft Laboratory for Future Autonomy — or ALFA, for short. Bell Photo

Bell reveals autonomous flight demonstrator, based on 429

By Vertical Mag | May 7, 2024

Estimated reading time 2 minutes, 31 seconds.

Bell has revealed the existence of an autonomous flight demonstrator, based on the Bell 429.

Known as the Aircraft Laboratory for Future Autonomy, the aircraft has been developed by Bell’s Advanced Programs team to test an “aircraft safety system” and perform autonomous fly-by-wire flights.

In a press release announcing the aircraft’s existence, Bell said its aircraft safety system separates safety functions from flight control functions, “allowing for rapid development and evaluation of novel flight control technology without compromising overall safety.”

ALFA completed its first flight in Mirabel, Quebec, before moving down to Fort Worth, Texas. Bell Photo
ALFA completed its first flight in Mirabel, Quebec, before moving down to Fort Worth, Texas. Bell Photo

The manufacturer described ALFA’s fly-by-wire integration as a “critical step” in the future development of autonomous controls in its commercial fleet — the aim being to reduce pilot workload and enhance safety.

“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.”

ALFA performed its first flight at Bell’s facility in Mirabel, Quebec, and is now based at Bell’s Flight Research Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

This is not the first time Bell has used the 429 as a platform for testing disruptive technology. The type was used to try a groundbreaking electric anti-torque system, known as EDAT (electrically distributed anti-torque) in 2020.

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