Air Taxi, Military

Air Force Announces Virtual Kickoff for Agility Prime’s ‘Air Race to Certification’

By Brian Garrett-Glaser | April 14, 2020
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The U.S. Air Force will host a digital launch of Agility Prime, its ‘flying car’ development and acquisition effort, from April 27 to May 1. (U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. Air Force will host a digital launch of Agility Prime, its ‘flying car’ development and acquisition effort, from April 27 to May 1, a week-long “immersive virtual experience” kicked off by service acquisition chief Will Roper.

Inspired by rapid commercial progress on all-electric aircraft promised to be far cheaper than helicopters, Agility Prime aims to both harness that investment for military use and provide military resources — wind tunnels, test ranges, certification — to support progress toward commercial certification and eventual widespread adoption of a new generation of flying machines.

“The objective of the event is to reinforce the Air Force commitment to partnering with industry, investors, and the interagency to help ensure there is a robust domestic capability in this new aerospace sector,” reads a press release from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. “Besides the keynote, there will be live virtual panels for manufacturers to showcase their capabilities alongside investors and academia. The government will also provide briefings and live moderated question and answer sessions to describe the contracting, testing, airworthiness, and import/export processes.”

With the global coronavirus outbreak disrupting investment and development work, Dr. Roper told press he wants the Air Force to play a buoying role for the precarious, emergent eVTOL industry.

“We want to send a strong message to the commercial market that we see eroding, that the U.S. Air Force is all in," Roper said. "We are going to accelerate this market for domestic use in a way that also helps the U.S. military, and that is a more strategic role that defense acquisition needs to play with commercial markets that have military import.”

Dr. Roper hopes the Air Force's early involvement, internal certification resources and operational flight hours will speed up domestic certification of eVTOL aircraft that, through Agility Prime, prove they are capable of fulfilling missions worthwhile to the service.

“We will do it as a series of challenges, so as you demonstrate your ability to do our missions, we take you further down the road of getting an Air Force certification," Dr. Roper added. "And we think that Air Force flight certification, followed by operational flight hours, is going to worth quite a lot in terms of commercial leverage. That once you have an Air Force logo on the side of your vehicle and you’re flying missions for us, it will greatly simplify FAA approvals … FAA, NASA are all really excited that we’re coming in because our safety process is trusted by them and by the American people – we fly fighters over stadiums all the time.”

Through a series of Areas of Interest (AOIs) released through Agility Prime, the Air Force — working with other military services and the White house — intends to begin by gathering information from industry on aircraft relative to specific military specifications, but quickly transition to a challenge format.

The first ICO released by Agility Prime describes the need for an aircraft that can move up to eight passengers at ranges greater than 100 miles at speeds exceeding 100 mph, with first flight of a full-scale demonstrator planned to occur no later than Dec. 17, 2020.

“The program will host a challenge series this year to select vehicles, certify safety and airworthiness, procure systems for the most promising missions, and reach operational capability by FY23,” said Dr. Roper to the House Armed Services Committee on March 11.

Dr. Roper’s 2023 timeframe matches the commercial deployment schedule announced by Uber Elevate, the ridesharing giant’s ‘flying car’ effort, which intends to launch that year in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and Los Angeles, California. Only electric VTOL aircraft manufacturer — Joby Aviation — has publicly committed to certification within that timeline.

The Agility Prime kickoff was originally slated to take place mid-March in Austin, Texas, as part of South By Southwest (SXSW), which was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

This article has been updated with additional information from a media availability by Dr. Will Roper, acquisition chief for the U.S. Air Force, on April 16.

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