Agility Prime – no, that’s not the new leader of the Autobots or an e-commerce website for aging athletes.
Rather, it’s the name of the Air Force’s new program exploring the development of a flying car.
The USAF sees such a craft as using electronic vertical-takeoff-and-landing technologies (eVTOL) to provide a quicker way to shuttle troops and equipment in and around the battlefield or for search-and-rescue missions.
The program offers a couple of unique dynamics. First, there’s no RFP for developmental funds. Instead, the program is structured as a challenge where companies will be rewarded with the certifications they need in order to commercialize the technology.
The Air Force feels these companies already have an influx of private funding, so the real challenge they face is obtaining the regulatory OK, which can progress more rapidly with the access to test ranges, safety inspections and overall airworthiness gradings from the Air Force.
According to a report on Business Insider, the craft could incorporate electric or hybrid propulsion and be operated remotely, autonomously or with an onboard pilot. Ideally, it could carry three to eight passengers about 100 miles at a speed of 100 mph.
The first steps for those looking to participate is submitting data about their eVTOL technologies. This will be used to produce a test report verifying performance, outlining certification and demonstrating cost-effectiveness. Then, they have to be able to get their craft airborne before Dec.17, 2020.
The Air Forces hopes to have up to 10 viable options in place by 2023.
In addition to adding a more nimble vehicle to their fleet, the Air Force feels the Agility Prime program offers a way to get ahead of the commercial market. By controlling, or at least influencing, the certification process, it can steer development of a flying car in a manner more favorable to DoD preferences.
According to a number of reports, a lack of U.S. military involvement in the early stages of small drone development may have played a role in those suppliers gravitating towards having their products sourced and built in China. This is obviously an issue given the current trade climate.
The Air Force has allocated about $35 million for the program over the next two years, with a goal of increasing that amount in the years to come.