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UKRI opens £30 million phase 2 of Future Flight Challenge

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has opened phase 2 of its Future Flight Challenge, seeking to invest up to £30 million to develop integrated aviation systems and vehicle technologies that enable new classes of electric or autonomous aircraft.

Vertical Aerospace Seraph display - Future Flight Challenge
Vertical Aerospace’s Seraph eVTOL on public display in London earlier this year. Public acceptance is one of the themes that UKRI is interested in for its Future Flight Challenge. Vertical Aerospace Photo

Future Flight Challenge kicked off in September 2019 with a “discovery phase” that invited a wide range of participants to come forward with ideas. In November, Future Flight Challenge director Gary Cutts told eVTOL.com that UKRI was seeing a strong early response to the initiative, which is backed by £125 million from the U.K. government.

The second phase of the competition opened on May 11 and will accept proposals through July 1. It has two strands: a “fast track” strand to encourage applications from smaller businesses and organizations that may not work within the aerospace and aviation sector, and a separate strand for larger consortia that wish to undertake “significant and ambitious projects that strive to integrate technologies and systems.”

For both strands, projects can last between six and 18 months, with all projects required to end by March 30, 2022. Lead organizations must be U.K.-registered businesses and carry out their project work in the U.K.

UKRI is seeking both “development” projects — which will lead to specific use case demonstrations — and “enabling” projects, which will expand national capabilities in areas such as testing facilities, data infrastructure, and aviation system simulations. According to its statement of scope, the agency aims to fund “a portfolio of projects, across a variety of technologies, markets, technological maturities, and research categories.”

Themes that are of specific interest to UKRI include air traffic management and unmanned traffic management systems, physical and digital infrastructure, autonomy, digital and communications systems, new business models, public acceptance, transport integration, simulation, non-aerospace regulation, viable use cases, total security systems, and vehicle technologies enabling integration to the new aviation systems.

“A ‘system of systems’ approach is required to address the interdependencies between vehicles, the airspace, and the broader infrastructure of aviation, including operators, service providers, and end users,” the solicitation states. “Projects are expected to address the integration challenges of new air vehicles, and by default their innovative capabilities, for example autonomy, into the aviation system.”

UKRI plans to open a third phase of the challenge, with an emphasis on demonstrating this integrated “system of systems” approach, in winter 2021.

More information and application guidance for the Future Flight Challenge is available on the gov.uk website.

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