AFWERX Prime, FAA agree to share flight-test information

  • Published
  • By Tim Tresslar
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

AFWERX Prime and the Federal Aviation Administration announced they have agreed to share flight-test data to accelerate the safe integration of Advanced Aircraft Mobility platforms into the National Airspace System Oct. 25.

The memorandum of understanding will also support AFWERX Prime’s efforts to advance the integration and maturation of AAM, including the electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft and autonomous systems industries. Prime, a division within AFWERX, aims to accelerate emerging commercial markets by leveraging government resources for rapid and affordable fielding, benefiting both the commercial industrial base and U.S. military capabilities.

The agreement was signed by Col. Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and chief commercialization officer for the Department of the Air Force, and John Maffei, the FAA’s acting director of Portfolio Management and Technology Development, during an event at Duke Field, Florida.

Leigh noted that, during the past three years, AFWERX has awarded more than $345 million in contracts to 36 developers of electric aircraft and related technologies as part of the national AAM strategy. With the DAF investments, certifications, limited partnership agreements and testing, this effort has generated more than $11 billion in commercial investment in the AAM sector.

According to Leigh, now is the time to redouble these efforts not only with the FAA but also with other federal partners in this space.

“With this MOU and the ongoing AAM Interagency Working Group, we are accelerating a breakthrough in electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft,” Leigh said. “We are driving progress in propulsion technology, in manufacturing and materials, and in test and safety for a novel class of air vehicles. Keeping this effort rooted in the United States, building our national security and accelerating innovation for our Airmen and Guardians are all crucial for the Air Force, and we are humbled to be a part of this historic effort. I am excited about this industry’s direction and the Air Force’s role in shaping it.”

The MOU will enable the DAF, AFWERX and the FAA to exchange data and share capabilities and expertise needed to test these technologies. The data will inform FAA certification efforts, policy, standards and future airspace integration requirements.

“A new era of aviation is taking off and safe and efficient operations require collaboration,” Maffei said. “This data will help inform FAA certification efforts, policies, standards and future airspace integration requirements.”

The new agreement showed the continued commitment by the Defense Department and the FAA to ensure all aviation conducted in the NAS meets the highest levels of safety and security, said Darshan Divakaran, AFWERX head of Airspace Innovation and Prime Partnerships. The NAS is a complex system composed of aircraft, airports, airspace, communication, individual pilots, policies, navigation and regulations working in these areas.

Divakaran added that the agreement establishes a unique approach to integrated testing and data sharing that will not only ensure airspace safety, but also help accelerate development of U.S.-built aircraft, supporting infrastructure and regulatory policy needed for successful integration of AAM.

“This MOU is a big step for the future of AAM and provides industry and investors the confidence needed to accelerate forward,” Divakaran said. “This partnership validates why the DoD created the AFWERX Agility Prime program to focus on AAM and dual-use technology.”

In July, the FAA released an implementation plan detailing the steps it and others will need to take to safely enable advanced air mobility operations in the near term. The “Innovate28”, or I28, plan includes various components and the sequence they will follow for operations to reach scale at one or more sites by 2028.

FAA officials added the partnership with AFWERX and the MOU supports the I28 initial entry into service objectives and future phases as defined in the FAA Urban Air Mobility Concept of Operations.