Flying cars have so far only been resigned to appearing in science fiction movies and comic books — something that seems in the distant future, and somewhat out of reach.
US Air Force officials beg to disagree.
According to a report by Theresa Hitchens in Breaking Defense, “flying cars” using electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) technology could be in full-up production for Air Force use in moving cargo and people within three years, says Air Force acquisition head Will Roper.
Such a capability, Roper enthused, would give the US military the ability to undertake missions “in three dimensions that we normally do in two,” giving the services “much greater agility,” the report said.
This is why the Air Force program for investing in commercial firms now pursuing eVTOL vehicles is called “Agility Prime,” he noted.
“We are going to accelerate this market for domestic use in a way that also helps our military,” Roper stressed. “The Air Force is all in.”
The Air Force will take a first look at vendor offerings in a virtual pitch event at the end of the month, with a focus on small eVTOL vehicles that could be used for missions involving transport of only a few people, the report said.
Roper told reporters that the size of any future Air Force vehicle buys would depend on what missions eVTOL vehicles prove capable of carrying out.
“If it’s helping us to do logistics at the edge, we could end up buying these in higher quantities. If it’s things like security and rescue, it will be smaller quantities,” he explained.
Roper has previously said he envisions large flying cars for carrying cargo, as well as smaller vehicles for Special Operations-type missions, the report said.
One of the hallmarks of Roper’s term as Air Force acquisition chief has been his focus on figuring out how to leverage commercial R&D to help DoD ensure that it can stay ahead of China in the pursuit of new technology — arguing that innovation is the new battlefield.
Roper added that he expects that granting commercial producers Air Force safety certifications and allowing them to rack up flying hours under Agility Prime “will really help accelerate domestic use of these vehicles and [allow some companies to] get FAA certification sooner.”
The Agility Prime program will hold a “virtual launch event” April 27 to allow vendors to showcase their capabilities and interact with potential investors.
It is designed as a “challenge” where eVTOL vehicle makers compete in a series of demonstration that ultimately could result in a contract for full-scale production.
Roper said the event originally had been planned as a live demonstration of capabilities by chosen vendors at the annual South By Southwest music festival in Austin that was scheduled for March 13-22, but cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to documents provided for potential competitors, the Air Force is asking vendors to be able to complete a flight test by Dec. 17. Companies will need to demonstrate the following specifications:
- Payload: 3-8 personnel
- Range: Greater than 100 miles
- Speed: Greater than 100 mph
- Endurance: Greater than 60 minutes
Roper said the second round of the competition would be dedicated to larger vehicles for cargo, and multiple people.