The eVTOL developers Beta Technologies and Joby Aviation are on their way to conducting flight testing with the U.S. Air Force as part of the Agility Prime “air race to certification.”
The Air Force announced on May 29 that both Beta, based in Vermont, and Joby, of California, have advanced to the third phase of an innovative capabilities opening (ICO) that was released in February through Agility Prime, the Air Force’s initiative to accelerate development of the commercial eVTOL industry.
This so-called air race to certification aims to provide eVTOL developers with financial and in-kind resources to further their progress toward certifying their commercial vehicles. The Air Force is seeking to acquire at least 30 such aircraft in the near term for a variety of potential logistics applications.
Both Beta and Joby took part in the first “heat” of the air race, Area of Interest One (AOI-1). This competitive solicitation, released with the ICO, sought vehicles capable of carrying three to eight people at least 100 miles (160 kilometers) at speeds of at least 100 mph, with first flight taking place before the end of this year. (Additional solicitations have since been released for AOI-2, eVTOLs that can carry one to two people; and AOI-3, large cargo drones.)
In the first phase of the process, Beta and Joby submitted “solutions briefs,” which led to a second phase in which the Air Force engaged with them directly to assess their vehicles’ commercial viability, operational utility, technical readiness level, certification path, timelines, needs, and opportunities.
Now, in phase three, Beta and Joby may submit full written proposals for the potential award of an “Other Transaction for Prototype” (OTP) agreement. This can include collaborative test planning and offering of test assets and expertise, with the intent of leveraging the campaign for airworthiness authorization and, potentially, procurement.
“We are pleased by the great response from industry and are looking forward to exercising our rapid contracting vehicle,” stated Lynda Rutledge, program executive officer for Mobility and Training Aircraft, in an Air Force press release.
Beta and Joby are among the most advanced and well-funded eVTOL developers in an increasingly crowded market. Joby unveiled its prototype air taxi in January of this year, when it also announced $590 million in Series C funding, the bulk of that from Toyota Motor Corp.
Beta — which has already conducted an extensive flight test campaign with its Ava XC prototype — is now poised to reveal its new eVTOL, called ALIA. It has a launch customer in United Therapeutics, which plans to use the 6,000-pound (2,720-kilogram) aircraft to transport human organs.
According to Agility Prime Team lead Col. Nathan Diller, “With the progress of these first two partners, we are looking forward to quickly moving on to airworthiness assessments and flight test this year, as well as working with other partners in the new Areas of Interest.”