AFWERX Agility Prime completes first USAF-piloted flight of an eVTOL vehicle with partner Kitty Hawk

The AFWERX Agility Prime program took another step forward in December with the first government remotely piloted flight of an electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing, or eVTOL, aircraft.

Capt. Terrence McKenna, an Air Force Reserve pilot with the 370th Flight Test Squadron and the Test and Experimentation Lead for AFWERX Agility Prime, participated in remote pilot in control, or rPIC, training on the Heaviside aircraft at the Kitty Hawk Corporation’s facility in Palo Alto, California from Dec. 13-17, 2021.

The training culminated in the first government remote piloted flight of an eVTOL aircraft when he successfully flew the Heaviside via the Buddy Box System. This first Airman flight demonstrated another key milestone in the collaboration.

Kitty Hawk, in partnership with Agility Prime, is evaluating a training syllabus for their unmanned eVTOL aircraft, the Heaviside. McKenna’s 15-plus years of expertise piloting manned aircraft such as the C-5 Galaxy and the T-38 Talon, as well as designing, developing, and testing manned and small unmanned aircraft systems, or sUAS, as a civilian engineer, assisted Kitty Hawk’s team of engineers in refining both their product and their training procedures.

Kitty Hawk: Building on the Wright Brothers’ Legacy

Kitty Hawk Corporation was founded in 2010 by Sebastian Thrun and is backed by Google co-founder Larry Page. Their series of Heaviside aircraft are just several in a line of over 20 various eVTOL prototypes. Kitty Hawk is headquartered in Palo Alto, California and conducts much of its testing there. In July 2021, the U.S. Air Force granted Kitty Hawk airworthiness approval, enabling the company to take advantage of additional testing opportunities through a partnership with Agility Prime.

Josh Lane, a flight test engineer for Agility Prime, began working with Kitty Hawk in March 2021 and has collaborated with Kitty Hawk to develop test plans supporting their prototype testing and goals to commercialization.

Focusing on Federal Aviation Administration revised Part 23, the safety standards and type certification requirements for small aircraft, and other potentially relevant parts of the Code of Federal Regulations, eVTOL companies like Kitty Hawk gained a greater understanding of the requirements they would have to comply with in order to gain type certification. However, Lane explained that the road to certification for eVTOLs is an ongoing, collaborative process.

“These are new designs that don’t fit the FAA mold, and there’s not a 100 percent fit in some of these companies’ cases, so there’s a lot of engagement going on getting this path to a certified FAA aircraft,” Lane said. “They’re using baseline parts and working with the FAA to determine what that certification basis is and what areas to be adjusted and addressed.”

McKenna concurred, saying, “Agility Prime is figuring out how we approach training for these types of aircraft. This is a whole new ballpark.”

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