Wednesday, November 25, 2020

U.S. Air Force leaders express interest in advanced air mobility vehicles

U.S. Air Force Top Leaders witnessed the first demo of a completely new type of aircraft – the electric-powered vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft at Camp Mabry, Aug. 20.

On August 21, the Air Force announced that Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass came together to witness the advances in a fully autounomous people transport developed by the Lift Aircraft.

According to a recent service news release, top Air Force leaders gathered with their Texas National Guard hosts and AFWERX personnel to watch the first Agility Prime ORB flight demonstration.

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The demonstration was presented by LIFT Aircraft, a Texas-based Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract recipient, as one of the first companies of its size to join the Agility Prime “Air Race to Certification.”

The aircraft resembles a large drone with 18 sets of propellers, motors and batteries. It has one seat for the pilot and weighs only 432 lbs – which qualifies it as a Powered Ultralight by the FAA so no pilot’s license is required to fly.

Electric multirotor aircraft fly using something called distributed electric propulsion (DEP), which allows an aircraft to be controlled simply by varying the speed of multiple electric motors – a task that is accomplished by flight control computers.

“The pilot is not flying the aircraft in the sense of traditional helicopters and fixed wing airplanes” says Colin Guinn, a drone industry pioneer who has held leadership roles at DJI, 3D Robotics and Hangar Technologies. “With DEP aircraft, like with drones, the flight computer is keeping the aircraft stabilized and the pilot merely provides control inputs using a joystick”

Agility Prime is a program with a vision of world impact,” Barrett said during the program’s launch in April 2020. “The thought of an electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle — a flying car — might seem straight out of a Hollywood movie, but by partnering today with stakeholders across industries and agencies, we can set up the United States for this aerospace phenomenon.”

In the heat of the afternoon, Matthew Chasen, LIFT chief executive officer, piloted the Hexa over the Camp Mabry parade ground, just a few miles from downtown Austin.

We now have over fifteen of the leading aircraft manufacturers in the world applying to partner with Agility Prime, with many of them already on contract,” said Col. Nathan Diller, AFWERX director and Agility Prime lead. “This flight today marks the first of many demonstrations and near term flight tests designed to reduce the technical risk and prepare for Agility Prime fielding in 2023.”

Photo by Staff. Sgt. Sean Kornegay

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