The US eVTOL community recently took an incremental, but significant step forward when AIR announced its next phase of participation in the US Air Force’s AFWERX Agility Prime Program. Of importance to Halldale Group’s MS&T and CAT followers, while AIR is creating eVTOLs for the consumer market, it concurrently completed Agility Prime’s third phase and is now under a formal agreement to continue future work with the government customer.
To manage expectations, the US DoD is eyeing its initial eVTOL tranches for logistics missions. In this instance, the company’s flagship AIR ONE will inform AFWERX about the aircraft’s use in USAF logistics missions, specifically the Area of Interest 2 goal of obtaining eVTOLs capable of carrying 1-2 people more than 10 miles at a speed of at least 45mph (72km/h). According to the OEM, while the aircraft can take off and land on any flat surface with a 550lb (250kg) payload, the all-electric two-seater AIR ONE aircraft, can achieve a practical long range on a single charge at speeds up to 155 mph (250 km/h) – far exceeding AFWERX AoI 2 criteria.
AFWERX’s charter includes helping to advance the broad US eVTOL industry and market, in capabilities ranging from defense to commercial logistics to eVTOL pilot training. The author gained provides insights on what AIR ONE’s early life cycle journey offers the broader community in terms of eVTOL training competencies.
Training is a Work in Progress
In an overarching, opening comment, Rani Plaut, Co-Founder and CEO of AIR, pointed out that “compared to other players in the industry, AIR ONE offers AFWERX a uniquely simple, cost-effective design” – in this case, eight fixed motors, compared to more complex, costly tilt motor designs, being advanced by competing OEMs.
In terms of pilot training, AIR ONE pilots will be certificated under an FAA SFAR (Special Federal Aviation Regulation) for powered-lift aircraft. Though the regulatory basis for this category is currently in development, AIR projects it will be established prior to AIR ONE aircraft certification and will be applied to deliveries.
The executive emphasized that solidifying the pilot training curriculum and retaining enough certified flight instructors are both company priorities in 2024. “Pilots will learn how to operate AIR’s proprietary Fly-By-Intent™ system, which translates pilot intentions into aircraft commands, making the operation of AIR ONE highly intuitive.” Additionally, AIR is currently in discussion with flight academies and operators to educate the next generation of maintainers for E-aviation, specifically eVTOLs. Plaut made another vital point, noting the transition to an electric, distributed propulsion system with a completely new set of elements such as batteries, a power management system, chargers, motors and more, requires its own know-how and skillset.
Emergent Pilot Training Construct
AIR will conduct pilot training associated with the first batch of deliveries directly, including flight simulation. The VR-based flight simulator built by AIR is currently available for use internally. The company also plans to expand this training via partnerships with flight schools and universities in the future. “AIR ONE’s full flight simulator utilizes virtual reality [VR], which not only allows operators to train for a multitude of scenarios, but also to gain full familiarity with the aircraft and how it reacts and performs before ever actually taking off.” The corporate leader offered that VR has become a universally important pilot training tool across the general aviation industry. “By enabling pilots to train for a wide range of scenarios, including those that could not otherwise be recreated, virtual reality allows pilots to establish situational awareness and equips them with the know-how to safely navigate and avoid emergency situations prior to entering the cockpit.”
Beyond its work AFWERX, AIR is currently scouting several locations to build out its American presence and continue flight testing of its inaugural eVTOL aircraft in the US.