'First of Many:' Air Force Leaders Watch Flying Car Demo

The electric vertical takeoff and landing Hexa.
Matt Chasen, LIFT Aircraft chief executive officer, pilots the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) Hexa over Camp Mabry, Texas, Aug. 20, 2020. (Air National Guard/Staff. Sgt. Sean Kornegay)

Less than one year after Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper announced that the Air Force was pursuing "self-flying cars," the service's top leaders gathered in Austin, Texas, to watch one take flight.

The vehicle in question is the single-passenger Hexa, an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) platform that consists of an open cockpit seat surrounded by a honeycomb of small rotors. Made by LIFT Aircraft, the 18-rotor Hexa is being marketed commercially as a flight experience available to all consumers, no pilot's license required.

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The Air Force demo flight took place Aug. 20 at Camp Mabry, a Texas military base. Surrounded by spectators, the Hexa took off, piloted by Matthew Chasen, CEO of LIFT.

The demonstration was organized under the Air Force's Agility Prime initiative, according to an Air Force release. Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., and Chief Master Sergeant. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass gathered together with hosts from the Texas National Guard and AFWERX personnel to view the flight.

LIFT Aircraft, a Texas-based Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract recipient, is one of the first companies partnering with Agility Prime and the Air Force for "Air Race to Certification," the release states.

After Roper stated at the Air Force Association annual convention in Sept. 2019 that the Air Force was interested in pursuing flying car technology, the service has moved quickly to make that vision a reality. Roper told reporters in April the Air Force wanted to acquire 30 flying cars over the next decade.

Launched by the Air Force in April, Agility Prime is a non-traditional program seeking to accelerate the commercial market for advanced air mobility vehicles. It also aims to leverage unique testing resources in collaboration with the government for distributed logistics and disaster response, according to its website.

"Agility Prime is a program with a vision of world impact," Barrett said during the program's launch. "The thought of an electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle -- a flying car -- might seem straight out of a Hollywood movie, but by partnering today with stakeholders across industries and agencies, we can set up the United States for this aerospace phenomenon."

"We now have over fifteen of the leading aircraft manufacturers in the world applying to partner with Agility Prime, with many of them already on contract," Col. Nathan Diller, AFWERX director and Agility Prime lead, said during the visit. "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."

-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed.

-- Bing Xiao can be reached at bingxiao2020@u.northwestern.edu.

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