U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., and Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne S. Bass witnessed a flight demonstration of LIFT Aircraft’s Hexa eVTOL this week — the first such demonstration organized under the Air Force’s Agility Prime initiative.
The Aug. 20 demo took place at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, with LIFT CEO Matthew Chasen at the controls. The Vertical Flight Society’s Electric VTOL News reported that the four-minute demonstration of Hexa included hovers, turns, and forward flights while the aircraft remained within 40 feet (12 meters) of the ground.
Texas-based LIFT Aircraft has received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract as one of the first companies of its size to join the Agility Prime “air race to certification” — the Air Force’s effort to accelerate development of the U.S. commercial eVTOL industry.
LIFT’s single-seat Hexa performed its first crewed test flight in November 2018. It is light enough to be classified as an ultralight under Federal Aviation Administration regulations — which means that pilots don’t need to be certified to fly it — and it has been developed and marketed primarily for experiential flights.
That doesn’t mean the Air Force can’t find a way to use it. According to Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, the Air Force is seeking to engage with the eVTOL industry as “an accelerant of a dual-use market,” rather than stipulating its own requirements for these novel vehicles.
The Air Force is pursuing larger eVTOL aircraft, too. In May, the service announced it had selected Beta Technologies and Joby Aviation to advance to the third phase of its air race specifically for vehicles capable of carrying three to eight people at least 100 miles (160 kilometers) at speeds of at least 100 miles per hour.
“We now have over 15 of the leading aircraft manufacturers in the world applying to partner with Agility Prime, with many of them already on contract,” stated Col. Nathan Diller, AFWERX director and Agility Prime lead, in a press release announcing the Hexa demo. “This flight today marks the first of many demonstrations and near-term flight tests designed to reduce the technical risk and prepare for Agility Prime fielding in 2023.”