The U.S. Air Force’s innovation incubator, AFWERX, is recommending for funding more than 250 proposals that were submitted to a recent solicitation related to Agility Prime, the service’s effort to help de-risk and operationalize advanced air mobility aircraft and related technologies.
“After successfully completing weeks of evaluations, selectees are undergoing final due diligence activities prior to proceeding to contract award,” said Maj. Jared Evans, partner at AFVentures. “While this is only the fourth STTR Open Topic, the X20D cohort is on track to be the largest single cohort in the STTR program’s history — representing a collective Phase 1 effort worth over $38 million.”
Numerous eVTOL developers are participating in Agility Prime “fly-off,” and at least two to date — Joby Aviation and Beta Technologies — have reached the third phase of the program, opening significant financial and testing resources as well as a path to military deployment.
The “open topic” Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR), which closed in August, was open to businesses seeking to partner with research institutions to commercialize emerging technologies related to the Agility Prime effort that may be of interest to the U.S. military. Most applications are being recommenced to receive the maximum $150,000 available for Phase 1 — discovery — funding; more will be available for programs that successfully reach the “prototyping” and “transition” phases of the STTR.
“This unprecedented interest demonstrates the value of the STTR program and the energy created when academia, industry, investors and government unite to accelerate commercialization of transformative technologies,” said Col. Nathan P. Diller, AFWERX director. “While we are pleased to use this as a tool to bolster the workforce of the future and propel research and development in the electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOL, market, we are even more excited to see what other ‘Prime programs’ might spring from these partnerships.”
U.S. Air Force leadership has pitched Agility Prime as a program that can not only help provide funding and resources to companies within the advanced air mobility ecosystem, but also assist with certification and entry into commercial service using the service’s reputation and willingness to fly missions when technologies or airframes are ready.
Agility Prime officials have stressed they intend to place no military-specific requirements on participating aircraft for the moment, supporting the race toward commercial applications rather than immediately looking toward military deployment, which likely assisted with the high volume of applications. Some members of the industry have told eVTOL.com they still harbor concerns about taking military investment, however — U.S. or otherwise — mostly regarding their ability to work with non-American investors who don’t want to pursue combat applications of the technology they invest in.