Flying Car940928900

Wanted: Flying Car Prototypes

March 9, 2020
The U.S. Air Force wants domestic companies to get the first crack at making flying cars for both military and commercial use.

Anyone who ever watched the futuristic cartoon “The Jetsons” knows that the flying car has been conjured up in inventive minds since at least the 1960s (if not longer). And while we haven’t seen one yet—or at least, not a commercialized model—the U.S. Air Force wants to change that and get the world moving in the direction that the creators of “The Jetsons” had in mind more than 50 years ago.  

Under the Agility Prime Innovative Capabilities Opening (ICO) Transformative Vertical Flight request for proposal, the Air Force’s Agility Prime Office is pursuing prototype projects from both nontraditional and traditional defense contractors. “These projects will help the Government assess the transformative vertical flight market and Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) technologies,” the RFP states. 

“This effort seeks to establish a collaborative strategy with industry and investors that accelerates fielding of the most promising technologies for savings and utility to the government, as well as potential commercial market success,” it continues. “As these systems mature toward certified commercial operations, the government will identify opportunities for early adoption, with the potential for procurement and fielding in the next three years.”

In the RFP, the Air Force singles out the core technologies of interest as emerging electric VTOL (eVTOL) and urban/advanced air mobility (UAM/AAM) aircraft. The aircraft can incorporate non-traditional electric or hybrid propulsion for manned or optionally manned missions, it adds, with onboard pilot, remote pilot or autonomous control.

“Based on emerging commercial trends, these transformational commercial vehicles are typically characterized by employment of distributed propulsion for vertical flight and potential use of a wing for horizontal flight,” the RPF states, “along with augmented flight control systems and high levels of automation or autonomy.”

Commercialization, Please

According to Breaking Defense, the goal with this RFP is not for the Air Force to build the new transport vehicle, but rather to offer commercial firms an opportunity to test their prototypes on military ranges. This helps inventors avoid safety certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) while at the same time demonstrating their possible military utility.

This is exciting news for anyone who has sat in traffic wishing that she could press button to kick the “vertical lift” into gear and fly home in 10 minutes instead of creeping down the highway at 10 mph. By giving U.S. manufacturers a head start in what could at some point be a pretty hot market, the Air Force is opening the doors for those inventors to get out in front of manufacturing-centric economies like China.

Among the tech winners that China has been able to poach from the U.S. is the consumer drone market, Defense One reports. “The Pentagon didn’t take a proactive stance on it and now most of that supply chain has moved to China,” Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper said at a recent press briefing. “If we had realized that commercial trend and shown that the Pentagon is willing to pay a higher price point for a trusted supply chain drone, the drone market would be different, and the U.S. military would be the direct beneficiary.”

To help avoid a similar situation with flying cars and other innovations, the Air Force created Air Force Ventures, which is charged with persuading the venture capital community to invest in projects with military relevance. “Roper said that partnering with the big-money houses of Silicon Valley has already helped to bring $400 million in private investment into companies working on defense problems,” Defense One points out.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Supply Chain Connect, create an account today!

About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.