A US Air Force pilot recently successfully piloted an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft during remote pilot training (rPIC), marking the first government flight of a remotely piloted eVTOL, the Air Force said.
The training exercise, held last month in Palo Alto, Calif., was a collaboration between Kitty Hawk and the Air Force AFWERX Agility Prime eVTOL acceleration program. It was aimed at evaluating and improving training for the aircraft manufacturer’s Heaviside eVTOL aircraft, the Air Force said.
During the week-long training, Capt. Terrence McKenna, Air Force Reserve pilot, 370th Flight Test Squadron pilot and test and experiment manager for Agility Prime, a completed a familiarization course for Kitty Hawk’s Heaviside eVTOL.
Heaviside has a maximum takeoff weight of 880 pounds, or about 176 pounds per passenger. The plane is capable of traveling at around 180 mph, is estimated to be around 100 times quieter than a typical helicopter and has demonstrated a range of around 100 miles on a single charge, the service said.
As part of the training, McKenna used a Buddy Box system or a secondary remote wired to a primary controller, which is a training feature of the Heaviside.
Operating as an outside pilot allows pilots to get a feel for the aircraft’s capabilities, McKenna said.
“It’s a different paradigm for operating the aircraft,” McKenna said in a statement. “One crucial thing the RC controller allows you to do that a fully unmanned or fully ground-controlled station-based approach won’t [gain] this intuition about the aircraft’s flight characteristics that are so important [for operational employment].”
While Heaviside is primarily developed for a commercial air taxi service market, the eVTOL aircraft offers potential utility for government use, such as transporting injured personnel, evacuations from hostile territory, or first air or cargo delivery. , the Air Force said.
Last May, Kitty Hawk received airworthiness approval from the Air Force, which opened the door to further flight testing opportunities under the Agility Prime program. The aircraft manufacturer conducted its first beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight in November near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
“The Air Force has been a strong partner for us as we move eVTOLs closer to readiness for human flight,” Kitty Hawk chief executive Sebastian Thrun said in a statement. “In Ohio, we took a big step by making ourselves the first [urban air mobility] provider to fly a BVLOS remotely piloted aircraft in unrestricted airspace.
In addition to the partnership with Kitty Hawk, Agility Prime has existing agreements with other eVTOL manufacturers including Joby Aviation, Electra and Archer Aviation.
Other recent AFWERX projects include Hermeus’ Mach 5 Quarterhorse program with a jointly funded $60 million contract to develop a hypersonic jet that could perform multiple roles, including transporting military executives, such as Air Force One. A similar contract has been awarded to Boom Supersonic to further develop the company’s commercial supersonic aircraft program, which is also a potential platform for the service.