DoD, FAA, USAF, NASA, etc. – well, it is not quite alphabet soup in terms of the evolving US government collaboration with industry to help place the initial tranches of eVTOL in commercial service and support delivery to military customers. But what is becoming clearer with each passing month is the huge, not quite out-sized, role the Pentagon is playing in the maturation of this US aviation market.


Expanding, Early US DoD Market Presence

To manage expectations, US DoD still envisions its initial eVTOL fleets to support logistics missions – medical transfer, personnel transport and the like, but still recognizing US Special Forces Command is a stakeholder in these early program activities.    

As recently as this March 19, Joby announced it will deliver two aircraft to MacDill Air Force Base in 2025 as part of the company’s AFWERX Agility Prime contract with the US Air Force.

This agreement brings to four the number of eVTOLs the company will deliver to DoD – Joby delivered its first aircraft to Edwards Air Force Base, California in September 2023, with a second aircraft expected to be placed on the base this year. 


It’s also important to establish the representative capabilities this OEM’s electric air taxi brings to the early stages of the acquisition cycle. A Joby press release notes its eVTOLs for this contract are “designed to carry a pilot and four passengers at speeds of up to 200mph [322km/h], offering high-speed mobility with a fraction of the noise produced by helicopters and zero operating emissions.”

Of high interest to MS&T, Joby will continue to train USAF pilots and maintainers, and other government partners, on this new category of electric aircraft, and complete other contract requirements. 

Archer is another player in the AFWERX Agility Prime program, also working with USAF to assess the potential of this vertical flight market 

Archer’s deliverables under its contracts with the service include a mobile flight simulator which the US Air Force and Archer will use together to train pilots, assess flight controls and improve US Air Force personnel’s understanding of the operational capabilities of Archer’s civilian use eVTOL aircraft platform and potential future development of aircraft for Air Force use, according to a company document. 

In November 2023 BETA Technologies, a third eVTOL OEM, delivered an ALIA eVTOL aircraft to Agility Prime to support an array of military tests.


Beyond DoD Involvement 

This January, Archer also signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA. An Archer document noted this collaboration will kick off with an initial project focused on studying high-performance battery cells and safety testing targeted for AAM and space applications. “NASA will test Archer’s battery system design for its Midnight aircraft with specific results being released to advance the entire AAM industry.”

And for its part, FAA continues to advance diverse regulatory components of the eVTOL enterprise. I companion editorial program CAT looks forward to gaining an update on these activities during FAA administrator Michael Whitaker’s key note address at the upcoming WATS 2024.

The US whole-of-government to advance the nation’s eVTOL industry has the potential to efficiently inform and allow vital decisions to be made across the eVTOL enterprise – from establishing vertiports to refining the nation’s air space management. Of particular interest to MS&T and CAT is how best practices, lesson learned and other outcomes for pilot and maintenance personnel training may migrate between and support military and commercial eVTOL operators.

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