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The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t dampened the U.S. Air Force’s enthusiasm for so-called “flying cars” — electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, already in development for commercial applications, which could potentially also be used for military logistics.
The Air Force will be reaffirming its commitment to the concept next week with a virtual launch event for Agility Prime, its initiative to accelerate development of the commercial eVTOL sector. The week-long event, running from April 27 to May 1, will feature four hours of livestreamed content each day, plus what the Air Force bills as “the first-ever flying car virtual trade show.”
The virtual launch event was organized after COVID-19 precautions forced the cancellation of an in-person event originally scheduled to take place at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
In a media call on April 21, Agility Prime lead Col. Nate Diller acknowledged the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic, including the strain it’s putting on “the innovators that are working daily to try to make this future of aviation happen, and try to bring to fruition this technology that they believe has so much promise across a variety of missions and across various different use cases,” he said. “And so that’s what this launch is intended to do, is really show the commitment that the Air Force continues to have.”
Agility Prime aims to leverage the considerable private investment in the emerging eVTOL market to procure aerial logistics platforms at a substantial savings for the taxpayer. Aircraft developers stand to benefit by gaining access in the short term to military testing ranges and other resources, with the potential to sell vehicles to the Air Force for fielding as early as 2023. The service published an Innovative Capabilities Opening to that effect on Feb. 25.
Next week’s virtual launch event will culminate with the unveiling of the first aircraft slated for testing through the Agility Prime program: Sabrewing’s Rhaegal-A cargo drone. Sabrewing has received a two-year, $3.25 million AFWERX Small Business Innovation Research Phase II contract to demonstrate the performance of the hybrid-electric aircraft, including its ability to operate in GPS-denied environments, and potential for use as an autonomous casualty evacuation platform.
Diller reported that as of April 21, around 50 eVTOL companies had signed up to take part in the virtual launch event.
“We’ve been pleased with the feedback and the participation that we’ve had so far, both from the industry side and the investor side,” he said. “We’re expecting a great event for next week.”