America’s technological leadership is now seen as an urgent matter of national security, and to make sure the country maintains its edge, the US military is marshalling its impressive resources to accelerate the development of a series of commercial technology products that could maintain the United States in the lead.
AFWERX Prime programs are explicitly designed to accelerate emerging commercial markets, utilizing military missions and resources, as well as testing infrastructure, certification authorities, interagency relationships, and early operational use cases.
The first of these is Agility Prime, a program to ensure that US eVTOL companies get to market stronger, faster and before anyone else, but there are other Prime programs planned to accelerate new technology in the energy sectors. , space, autonomy, games, supersonics and microelectronics.
If the United States has the technological advantage, the theory goes, prosperity will follow, and the huge American war machine will continue to be fed. In addition, there will be less potentially dangerous foreign technology that can be weaponized in an “unrestricted war” scenario.
Four US eVTOL companies have received military airworthiness approval through Agility Prime: Joby Aviation, Beta Technologies, Lift Aircraft and, most recently, Kitty Hawk, whose Heaviside aircraft has just been accepted.
The Heaviside is a two-seater electric plane with a reverse-swept wing and a small canard. It uses eight canted propellers – six along the main wing and two on the canard – to achieve vertical lift in a thrust vectoring design. Interestingly, the propellers pitch down rather than up during VTOL. When a runway is available, it is able to save energy by using conventional takeoff and landing.
The autonomy is more than 161 km, with important reservations, and the maximum speed is about 290 km/h. It makes a hundredth of the noise of a helicopter, just 38 dBA at 1,000 feet, and in terms of efficiency, Kitty Hawk says it uses less than half the energy per mile of a conventional electric car.
Kitty Hawk demoed the Heaviside for the Agility Prime team in May, conducting logistical and medical evacuation drills and demonstrating fully autonomous and remotely piloted use cases. Colonel Don Haley, Commander of Detachment 62 of the Air Education and Training Command, stated that “they serve both urban air mobility and search and rescue operations: High reliability, launch and recovery capacity, minimal logistics footprint, accessibility for people with mobility problems, low acoustic signature and high levels of autonomy .”
Will this thing be useful for the military in the short term? The truth is that it doesn’t matter. AFWERX director Col. Nathan Diller said the military airworthiness approval will allow the US Air Force to begin paying Kitty Hawk for test flights in a number of different scenarios, giving the company a small source of income and the opportunity to expand their ideas on how the aircraft could be used. It is an approval for remote operations, so initially it will not be for manned flights.
Military airworthiness is an opportunity for eVTOLs to be built and put into service long before they are certified to civil aviation authorities. It will be interesting to see how the support of the Agility Prime program affects the overall progress of the chosen companies.
More information: kittyhawk.aero