Air Force’s new eVTOL technology will roll off the production process by 2023.

The Air Force is constructing an acquisition strategy to enter the booming market for space-age flying cars. They are looking to improve the technology by designing and developing a platform that could replace the service’s CV-22 Osprey, according to an announcement made by Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, in 2019. In further discussions, he gave a timetable: these flying automobiles might be rolling off the assembly line by 2023.

The Air Force is still working on the “base technology” as the target date gets closer: an electric vertical takeoff and landing or eVTOL. The new tech is a crewless aircraft that can support a wide range of operations, from cargo transport to golf cart-style transit that can ferry army units over short distances all over training facilities and fields. Air Force authorities, however, call everyone to stop referring to it as a “flying car,” regardless of what it looks like or does.

“We have shied away from flying cars because that’s not what’s not what they are,” Lt. Col. Thomas Meagher, chief of the AFWERX Prime division, which oversees the development, told Sandboxx News.

“It’s also not what industry is calling it. There is not much information about the project, which AFWERX now calls eVTOL or ORB. The project is still developing, and executives keep targeting a late 2023 fielding date. As per AFWERX Prime documents, it is now a “three-pronged project,” with all spikes working together to establish “a new class of air mobility systems. What we’ve seen in the military is, we’ve had a significant effort over the last couple of years on drones, for different purposes,” Meagher said.

AFWERX is currently seeking platforms that can satisfy one of three requirements: transport for three to eight people with a range of 150 to 300 miles. Meagher also included:

  • A shorter-range aircraft
  • A shorter capacity platform that can transfer loads of 300 or 400 pounds.
  • Can carry roughly two people’s worth of weight
  • A crewed or uncrewed eVTOL platform only for cargo transportation and conveyance with a range of about 100 miles.

The First Flight

U.S. Air Force. (Released). (Source: English: U.S. Department of Defense, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In March, two Air Force pilots conducted a test flight aboard Alia, an electric aircraft developed by Beta Technologies with a 50-foot wingspan and a rear propeller, representing a significant advancement for the project. In addition, Meagher claimed that was the first instance members of the Defense Department had operated an eVTOL aircraft.

The plane took off and flew for approximately an hour, with its two motors powering a propeller in the back. It passed again later on that day. The Beta Technologies firm in Vermont developed the Alia aircraft, an experimental flying contraption that releases zero emissions in the air.

These flights were noteworthy. It was the first time for this corporation and others in an Air Force program called Agility Prime that there were Air Force pilots at the controllers and on board the aircraft who both have extensive experience as test pilots.

A program run by the Air Force dubbed Agility Prime, which includes Beta and several other companies in the field, aims to speed up the work these businesses are doing while also giving it a behind-the-scenes look at the potential military applications for these novel types of aircraft.

Challenging Next Phase

Senior Airman Douglas Anthony and Airman Kyle Joyner, both 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chiefs, discuss pre-flight checks on a B-2 Spirit before takeoff Aug. 22 at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (Source: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kenny Holston, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

AFWERX Prime informs the FAA of its findings as it assesses aircraft prototypes. As the management develops laws for autonomous and optionally piloted aircraft, it also uses that communication channel to convey priorities and implications. Consequently, the Air Force’s research may help open up new areas and opportunities for “commercial and civilian platforms.”

Incorporating greater mechanization into eVTOL platforms and even expanding automation such that one human operator could command several aircraft concurrently are “challenges” for the future, according to Meagher.

“The Prime program structure is, look at the areas that there’s a lot of commercial investment, and maybe you really could use a government push in a certain area, or even just coordination or somebody to say … This is a priority for us, and to bring in some things that are outside just the DoD to make them happen in the long run.”

“So that’s a little bit of a different approach. But it’s really necessary for some of these technologies,” he added.