US Air Force leaders watch LIFT Aircraft’s HEXA eVTOL take flight in first Agility Prime demo

LIFT Aircraft's Hexa eVTOL ultralight, which is being piloted by CEO and Founder Matt Chasen. Air National Guard photo by Staff. Sgt. Sean Kornegay.Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett learns about the details of the Hexa eVTOL from Matt Chasen, LIFT Aircraft CEO. Air National Guard photo by Staff. Sgt. Sean Kornegay.Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown, Jr., sits in a LIFT Aircraft Hexa aircraft during a visit to Camp Mabry, Texas. Air National Guard photo by Staff. Sgt. Sean Kornegay.

The top three lead­ers from the US Air Force watched an eVTOL air­craft in flight on Fri­day, when LIFT Air­craft CEO and Founder Matt Chasen gave a demon­stra­tion of the com­pa­ny’s sin­gle-seat ultra­light, HEXA.

As report­ed by the Ver­ti­cal Flight Soci­ety’s Elec­tric VTOL News, the four-minute flight took place at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas and includ­ed hov­ers, turns and for­ward flights — with the air­craft remain­ing 40ft (12 metres) off the ground.

The event coin­cid­ed with a vis­it to the Air Force’s Inno­va­tion Hub, AFWERX in Austin, Texas, by Sec­re­tary of the Air Force Bar­bara Bar­rett, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., and Chief Mas­ter Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass.

The vis­it was host­ed by its direc­tor, Col. Nathan Diller, who also leads the Air Force’s Agili­ty Prime ini­tia­tive. An offi­cial vir­tu­al launch to help sup­port the rapid com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of the eVTOL indus­try in the USA took place in April 2020.

Speak­ing at the time, Bar­rett said: “Agili­ty Prime is a pro­gramme with a vision of world impact. The thought of an elec­tric ver­ti­cal take-off and land­ing vehi­cle — a fly­ing car — might seem straight out of a Hol­ly­wood movie, but by part­ner­ing today with stake­hold­ers across indus­tries and agen­cies, we can set up the Unit­ed States for this aero­space phe­nom­e­non.”

LIFT Air­craft’s HEXA air­craft resem­bles a large drone with 18 sets of pro­pellers, motors and bat­ter­ies. It has one seat for the pilot and weighs 432 lbs — which qual­i­fies it as a Pow­ered Ultra­light by the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion (FAA), so no pilot’s license is required to fly.

As report­ed by Elec­tric VTOL News, more than 15,000 peo­ple have reg­is­tered to fly the air­craft, but the start date has been pushed back because of the ongo­ing Covid-19 pan­dem­ic. Three pro­to­types are cur­rent­ly fly­ing, with based two in the USA and a third near Budapest, Hun­gary, where LIFT has a research facil­i­ty.

LIFT Air­craft is also one of the first of its size to join Agili­ty Prime’s ‘Air Race to Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion’, and has also secured a Small Busi­ness Inno­va­tion Research (SBIR) con­tract.

Diller said: “We now have over fif­teen of the lead­ing air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ers in the world apply­ing to part­ner with Agili­ty Prime, with many of them already on con­tract. This flight marks the first of many demon­stra­tions and near term flight tests designed to reduce the tech­ni­cal risk and pre­pare for Agili­ty Prime field­ing in 2023.”

The US Air Force is also look­ing into oppor­tu­ni­ties for larg­er air­craft too, and ear­li­er this year it announced that Beta Tech­nolo­gies and Joby Avi­a­tion had pro­gressed to Phase III of the Ini­tial Capa­bil­i­ties Open­ing. 

Accord­ing to the ICO, a suc­cess­ful Phase III can result in, ‘fur­ther pro­to­typ­ing, resource shar­ing, test­ing, pro­duc­tion, and field­ing as a launch cus­tomer.’