The US Air Force’s Agility Prime program is deliberately and cautiously advancing to inform the Service’s decisions on acquisition decisions for eVTOL aircraft. As these platforms are evaluated, important early training lessons-learned are emerging for the pilots who will operate this new generation of aircraft.

Spoiler alert. The US DoD does not plan to start buying eVTOLs at least through fiscal year 2024. At the same time, the Pentagon still envisions a “crawl-walk-run” strategy to initially using eVTOLs for battlefield logistics, and in particular, medical transport and cargo transfer missions. Testing and research on prospective eVTOLs that will enter the Service’s air order of battle are producing initial feedback for prospective training enterprises. 

Lt. Col Andrew Anderson, Director of Operations at Det 62, Headquarters AETC (Air Education and Training Command), first told WATS pilot track delegates there is a mind-boggling 600+ eVTOL prototypes his Service-Industry team is reviewing and evaluating. After working their way through aircraft with 4-rotor or more configurations, the senior officer nonetheless pointed to some early commonalities and lessons learned to defining the role of an eVTOL pilot. As these protypes tend to be automated and heavily software centric, “Automation is making the pilot’s task of controlling the eVTOL easy,” Anderson said. The Air Force officer continued, “Task saturation is reduced and task prioritization is made easier. There should be a reduced time to train to proficiencies.”  As a case in point, Anderson told delegates eVTOL automation allowed him to “teach his wife to hover in an eVTOL simulator in less than one hour.”   

Measuring Pilot Performance 

Enter Aptima, on contract to the US Air Force to assist the Service in measuring pilot performance on eVTOL platforms. Aptima has a rich history of measuring performance and adjacent tasks for decades in the US Air Force’s F-15, -22 and other fast jet programs. Yet, as Aptima brings to bear insights and lessons learned from its previous Air Force work, Dr. Kent Halverson, Senior Director, Training, Learning, and Readiness Division at the company, said “more questions than answers are being generated.”

Halverson also noted the early eVTOL designs and automation allow for the offloading of onboard tasks from the human pilot to the extent that “the need for dogmatic prioritization lists found on traditional aircraft need to be questioned.”

Aptima is also employing cutting-edge measurement alternatives in pursuit of understanding pilot performance for this first tranche of aircraft. While data is being employed to suggest recommended curriculum design and other program underpinnings, there is the possible use of physio measures (heart rates and others) at key points of the study.     



US Air Force and BETA Technologies team members walk toward an ALIA aircraft for an Agility Prime flight test. Automation tends to be common among eVTOL designs -- promising to redefine the role of the pilot.

Credit: BETA Technologies/Jenki