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US Air Force “considering shift to heavy-lift drones in CSAR missions”

Airforce Technology reports in a recent analysis feature that the US Air Force (USAF) is discussing using heavy-lift uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV) for collecting service members stranded in combat, according to its Chief of Staff, General Charles Brown, in remarks made to the American Enterprise Association: “ Part of the discussion is how do you use autonomous vehicles that might go out and pick isolated personnel up in a high threat environment?”

The news magazine reports that since April 2020 the USAF has been engaged in a research programme, Agility Prime, to develop its own eVTOL aircraft to serve as autonomous aerial vehicles. Colonel Nathan Diller, director of AFWERX, the innovation arm of the USAF Research Laboratory, was quoted: “Electric vertical takeoff and landing has potentially some advantages…With electric…in general the idea is there’s going to be reduced operational maintenance. With electric I’m able to control more effectively my acoustic signature. Then the other piece is the simplified vehicle operations.”

Through the Department of the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transition (STTR) programs, run by AFWERX AFVentures, the Agility Prime programme works with the small business community to advance the eVTOL industry, according to the USAF. “Agility Prime is a Department of the Air Force program and also includes collaboration with the Army for developing transformative vertical lift capabilities. The USAF has made available a simulator facility at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. “The new Springfield facility is utilized by Beta Technologies, a Vermont-based aircraft manufacturing startup, California-based Joby Aviation — an aerospace company that develops electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft — and LIFT Aircraft, a Texas firm that is also in the eVTOL space,” said a USAF press statement.

“The Agility Prime efforts reduce the risk for technology, regulatory, and financial aspects of the eVTOL industry, increasing the pace of development, and paving the way for early operations of eVTOL aircraft for both military and commercial applications,” said Maj. John Tekell, Agility Prime lead.  Possible uses for such aircraft include disaster relief, firefighting, search and rescue, humanitarian aid efforts, medical evacuation, logistics support, and personnel movement.

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(Image: Joby eVTOL – US Defense Department)

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